Have you been faithful to use the opportunities God has given you to further His kingdom?
In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches on the Parable of the Talents, one of His best known stories. A man was setting out on a long journey and met with three of his servants before he left. He entrusted a certain amount of money to each them to manage while he was absent. (A “talent” in the New Testament is a large amount of currency). To one servant he gave five talents, to another he gave two talents and to another one talent. The servants that received the five and two talents immediately invested their monies in a way that brought a significant return. But the servant who had received the one talent hid his money, burying it in the ground. After a long period of time, the master returned and wanted an account of how his money was used. The servants who had invested their talents and had a return were praised by the master and called “good and faithful servants”. But the one talent servant said to his master, “I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground”. At this, the master rebuked him, indicating his displeasure and that this excuse was not acceptable. His only responsibility with the one talent was to increase it, not to hide and keep it safe. The master ordered that the one talent should be taken from him and given to the servant who had produced the greatest return.
This well known parable is usually seen in a universal sense - that God expects His people to be responsible in using their resources, their natural abilities and their spiritual gifts to benefit His work. The number of talents given to each servant does not imply the value of the servant, each servant had a place in the master’s household. The text clearly states that both the five talent and the two talent servants were given the same praise and same reward by the master (vv. 21,23). There is no reason to believe that the one talent servant would not have received the same.
How else could we understand this parable as it applies to us today? Let’s look at this story using a different lens. The talents could be compared to the opportunities that God gives us. I suggest that the five talent people are those who are very gifted. They know their gifts and manage them all well. But looking at the parable this way, the point is not their resources or gifts. God gives them multiple ways, or platforms to exercise their gifts. Their abilities enable them take full advantage of the many opportunities that come their way. Two talent and one talent Christians are be those who also have God given abilities and spiritual gifts, yet perhaps with fewer occasions to use them.
The world runs on two talent people! Most of us do not have extraordinary giftedness or exceptional opportunities. Thousands of pastors, staff members and lay people serve God faithfully in small churches, small towns or rural communities across our nation. These are “two-talent” people in the sense that their opportunities are limited to some degree. Most of them will never pastor a megachurch, publish a book, have thousands of social media followers or have a national platform. Yet they faithfully and joyfully serve in the field where God has placed them, investing their time and energy in His kingdom (see 2 Corinthians10:13). Churches and ministries depend on the day in and day out work of quiet, ordinary people who, like the two talent servant, take the opportunities that God gives them, and use their gifts in His work. Maybe that means serving as a church administrator, a children’s worker, a church treasurer or serving in some capacity that largely goes unnoticed and perhaps unappreciated, as well. My spiritual growth began in earnest when I sat under a gifted woman Bible teacher at our small church in Oklahoma. I was taken with her passion, her knowledge of scripture and her genuine love for the women in our church. I desperately wanted what she had and I am still on that quest. She never spoke at a large conference, wrote a book or became famous. Her opportunities were limited but she used every last one of them to teach and encourage young women to follow Christ. She is a classic example of the two-talent Christian.
The master praised the five and two talent servants, calling them “good and faithful”. What a contrast when we notice that he described the one-talent servant as “wicked and lazy”. That seems harsh, at first reading. But if we understand “wicked” to mean working against God’s purposes, then it becomes clear. If we are poor stewards of the gifts AND opportunities He has invested in us, then we have no part in His kingdom work.
Looking at The Parable of the Talents from this perspective shows us that it is not only how many gifts we have been given, but our willingness to take every opportunity to use them faithfully and develop them for the glory of our Master. After mulling over this passage for several weeks, I’ve asked myself, “Have I been faithful to use the opportunities God has given me to further His kingdom?” Like the five and two talent servants, may we all be diligent and faithful in our service.
She sighed and said, "So...how do I tell him?" My friend had confided that her husband had been criticized by a church leader, one whom they both respected. He was understandably hurt and defensive, a normal reaction. The conversation turned, however, when she confessed there was some merit in the criticism. Her husband couldn't see it, but she could and knew others did as well. How could she best communicate this to him? How do you speak a difficult truth in a way that it can be received?
Spiritual leaders especially need to find effective ways to speak truth to others within a gospel context, in accordance with Eph. 4:15, "...speaking the truth in love." This is an essential skill to cultivate because we are occasionally called on to have this type of conversation with others. Your adult child, your close friend, a co-worker, church member or others may need to hear "truth" - but it must always be expressed in love, gentleness and respect. This verse is couched in Ephesians 4, a chapter devoted to promoting unity within the body of Christ. It is significant that these two virtues, truth and love, are linked together, indicating that true unity results from both. Speaking truth is the easy part - doing it with authentic grace takes it to another level.
These three considerations may help you to "speak truth in love":
Check your motivation. What is driving you? Has this person offended you? If so, are you pursuing a confrontation for your own purposes? Or, like the wife above, do you genuinely seek what is best for the other person? Take some time to think, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your heart of any self serving attitudes. St. Teresa de Avila advised, "Be gentle with all and stern with yourself."
Consider your timing, since you are looking to capture a moment when you have his or her ear. If the opportunity presents itself, don't hesitate. On the other hand, don't force it if you sense the time isn't right. Pray that God will open the door to a conversation, if He so wills. "How delightful is a timely word!" (Prov. 15:23)
Come up with a "word picture". A word picture is a metaphorical story or scenario used to express a truth. For example, in 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan confronted David regarding his adultery with Bathsheba. However, rather than immediately accusing him, he came in the back door of David's heart with his story of a poor family, a beloved pet lamb and a cruel rich man. Nathan skillfully wove this word picture in order that David might see his actions from God's perspective. Granted, this is a dramatic example - most of our situations are much more ordinary. Still, it illustrates an extremely effective way to communicate truth with someone in authority over you or someone who is resisting truth.
These conversations are not easy but they are necessary at times. "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer" (Prov. 15:28)
Three Ways You Can Squander Your Influence
Our influence is temporary
It was given to us by God
It can be taken away
One day we will give an account for how we used it
This blog series has looked at leadership principles and influence from several different perspectives. As ministry wives, we have been entrusted with a platform of influence. We want to do it well! One of the mantras of this series is that if we want to be an effective leader, we must be purposeful. That simply means that we are aware of this holy call on our lives and work diligently to steward it well. On the flip side, we waste our opportunities of influence when we…
- Close ourselves off from people outside of our own family and closest friends. Because of the demands of life and ministry, we can neglect to cultivate relationships with those outside of our immediate circle. Ironically, as our circle of acquaintances grows, often our circle of those closest to us can shrink. At best, this is a result of busyness. At worst, however, it can be a result of just not caring. Pay attention to what is happening in your church family and your community. One of the reasons God made social media (some would challenge that!) is to give a quick overview of others’ lives. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”, Rom. 12:15. It takes so little to voice your encouragement or concern but can carry such weight with others. Isolation never lends itself to leadership.
- Yield to cynicism. Always be suspicious that people have an ulterior motive or are wanting to use you in some way. Cynicism focuses on the worst in people, never the best, and is a joy destroyer. Yes, it is true people occasionally take advantage of us or betray our trust in some way. True, many of our expectations of life have not been met. Welcome to adulthood, it happens to everyone, certainly not just those in ministry. The danger of cynicism is that the distrust we feel towards others leads to a default stance of always thinking the worst about people. Stephen Colbert observed, “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it.” This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be knowledgeable about human nature, but to remember Jesus’ words, “…be wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
- Regularly schedule “Poor Little Me” pity parties, indulging in self-pity or self-condemnation for all you are not. Believe the lie that you have nothing to offer and are totally inadequate. Someone once said “Self-pity tends to distort, like a fun-house mirror.” At its root, it posits that a mean God is intentionally withholding good from us. It’s also the root of just about every other sin of self-indulgence. I have had some of the finest pity parties ever held, and have learned that they are exhausting and fruitless.
Andy’s quote carries a sense of urgency. We don’t have time to waste. Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates this principle perfectly
(Matt. 25: ). It does not matter
What are some other ways we might squander our influence?
“Wait. Why should I care about Passover? I’m a Christian. Isn’t that a Jewish thing?”
I have frequently heard this response when sharing about “Passover for Christians”. Yes, Passover is a “Jewish thing”, but it's also a “Christian thing”! The two are closely related. Jesus celebrated Passover all of His life, including the night before He was crucified. At that meal (Matthew 26:17-30), Jesus instituted the “Lord’s Supper” (Communion), which is one of the two ordinances we observe. By understanding the Passover story, our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is greatly enhanced.
Exodus 12 recounts the dramatic story of the Israelites and their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. In order to convince Pharaoh to let His people go, God sent ten plagues on Egypt, the last being the death angel who would “pass over” every home, where every firstborn child would die. The Israelites would avoid this judgment, if they obeyed HIm. God instructed them to slaughter a lamb, smear its blood over the door posts of their homes, and prepare to quickly leave Egypt. They obeyed, their children were spared and they left slavery behind, journeying on to the Promised Land. From that point on God instructed them to observe Passover every year as a reminder of His deliverance, and so they have. Passover, (aka The Feast of Unleavened Bread), became a major Jewish holiday occurring in the spring of every year, frequently coinciding with Easter.
For believers, this story has a Christological meaning, pointing to the coming Messiah. The foods of Passover have symbolic meaning for our Jewish friends - the matzah is the unleavened bread that had to quickly be baked before leaving Egypt. The lamb shank bone represents the slaughter of the lambs and the wine represents the blood spread over the doorposts of each home. As believers, we see these metaphors as hallmarks of our faith. The lamb is Christ, our sacrifice; his shed blood is the wine, the unleavened bread represents His body. Each food of the Passover has a symbolic meaning, especially as we look at the meal through the lens of Christianity.
Here is where we “connect the dots”. Passover is not an isolated story. It is an account of God’s redemption, which is the meta-narrative, or big story, of the Bible. In the Passover, we have the past (the Old Testament) and Jesus’ institution of the Lords Supper (the New Testament). But wait - there’s more! We also have the future, as pictured in Rev 19:6-9, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. At that feast, all of Gods redeemed will be gathered in celebration of His final appearing. In this Story, we celebrate the past and look to His future promise.
But what does this mean to me, you ask. Consider this: Christians celebrate two major events on the church calendar - Christmas and Easter. Christmas observances are well established traditions in our homes and churches. But not so with Holy Week and Easter. How do we celebrate that season, besides maybe attending a Good Friday service, or an Easter egg hunt with the obligatory ham dinner? Participating in a Passover meal (seder), from a Christian perspective, provides the perfect opportunity for believers to tell the story of Jesus in a fresh and creative way. By celebrating Passover during Holy Week, we prepare ourselves spiritually for Resurrection Sunday. We “step into HIs story” of redemption, eating the same foods as Jesus ate at His final Passover, reading the scriptures He read and understanding the rich symbolic meanings. It is time we, as followers of Christ, recapture the wonder and rich tradition of the Holy Week and Easter season.
In 1978 we moved from a small Oklahoma town to a new pastorate in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, which has a very large Jewish population. It was quite a cultural adjustment! We soon met a group of “Messianic Jews”, who were believers in Christ, but remained in their Jewish culture regarding their feasts, traditions, etc. These new friends introduced us to the Passover from a Christian perspective and we were taken with its beauty and mystery. Many years later, after moving to Dallas, Texas, I met up with my friend, Melanie Leach, who was already holding Passover meals in her home during Holy Week. Through our collaboration, we launched “Passover for Christians”, co-authoring Passover for Christians: Creating a New Easter Tradition and teaching workshops, seminars, and seder presentations to anyone interested. We have done Passovers for children’s ministries, women’s bible studies, Christian schools and other venues. But our very favorite Passover celebrations are the ones we hold in our own homes and around our own table.
The Passover meal is both a ceremonial meal and a normal meal. All of the participants take turns reading or telling Bible stories and reading various scriptures, psalms, prayers - all from a “Seder Guide”. It's not meant to be a stiff, formal meal, but one where children take part and there is conversation. For adults, it is a perfect time to share spiritual stories and experiences that have shaped us. We have had a seder every year in our home since our grandkids were little. Yes, they wiggle, pronounce the food “gross”, interrupt and do everything kids do! But that's part of the charm - it's a family celebration. At a seder, the ceremonial foods are served for each person to taste - the matzah crackers, horseradish, haroset (apples and cinnamon), a green vegetable and saltwater. Each food has a meaning and is explained. Obviously this kind of “meal” is not meant to satisfy hunger, but a illustrate a spiritual truth. After the ceremonial meal, we serve a regular dinner. Melanie is a foodie and goes all out with Mediterranean dishes and foods that fit the theme of the night. The Hawkins are happy with chicken fajitas! Either way, we say “Make it your own!” Serve a meal that your family or guests enjoy and use the time to talk about the significance of our faith.
So why should Christians care about Passover? Because by observing this meal during Holy Week, we “step into His story” and follow Christs example the night before He went to the cross. And believe me, once you do this, Easter will never be the same.
You can find resources, recipes and free downloads on the Passover seder at www.passoverforchristians.com.
This blog was first published on January 21, 2021.
Years ago when our daughters were young, I ran across a book by Dr. Donald Sloat entitled The Dangers of Growing Up in a Christian Home. The title intrigued me, especially since our oldest had entered the pre-adolescent stage, which can be described as a season of parental desperation and insecurities. Having been raised in a Christian home, and raising my own kids in one as well, I was especially interested in the message of this book. As it turned out, I’ve used it as a teaching resource for over thirty years and still find much of the content to be spot on. It is not an exposee by an unhappy adult, but rather an honest look at the complex issues that go along with parenting in a Christian context. This book’s premise is that a vibrant faith must be experienced individually, and is not automatically passed on by a parent or grandparent. Thus, God has no grandchildren, only children.
(Let me say, however, that clearly it is much more dangerous for your children to NOT be brought up in a believing home, as opposed to an unbelieving one.)
So what exactly is the “danger” referred to in the book’s title? The danger is that rather than passing on the baton of a strong, living faith, we pass on to our children a lifestyle of church culture and/or legalistic rules and thinking. As in a relay, as the runners strive for a smooth passing of the baton. It is crucial in the race. So how can we best pass the baton of faith to the next generation?
This is not a new challenge. Every generation of believing parents has had the same dilemma. In Judges 2:7-10, we see this very situation. Joshua was approaching death and gathered the Israelites to address them. He challenged them to serve God and not follow the gods of the Amorites. But verse 10 says that, “....the next generation did not worship Jehovah as their God and did not care about the mighty miracles he had done for Israel.”
You could say that Joshua and his generation, were like first generation Christians. They had seen God’s miraculous works first hand, experienced God’s provisions in the wilderness. But this new generation was different, that was not their story. Obviously growing up in the presence of godly parents did not automatically guarantee that the children would have the same degree of faith as that generation. God may have been real to their parents, but He wasn’t to their children. They had dropped the baton. Obviously God knew of this challenge and would teach this younger generation obedience and faith differently than he taught their parents (see Judges 3:1-2). Don’t miss this - personal spiritual experiences cannot be handed off. Each person has to find their own walk with God. God intended another process to teach the younger generation obedience and faith, as they conquered the land. Each generation must find their own spiritual way.
As we pass off the baton of faith, here are three things to remember:
We need to have a clear definition of sin, according to the Bible. As Dr. Sloat says, “...when sin is defined ... primarily in terms of behavior to be avoided instead of an inner state of being, the stage is set for a variety of negative and unhealthy responses to take place.”
External behavior may demonstrate a sinful choice but the root problem is inner rebellion, disobedience or faithlessness. If sin is defined as a “Master List of Do’s and Don’ts” the understanding of sin is distorted. We all know plenty of people, including ourselves, who conformed to an outward standard of conduct but were in total rebellion spiritually. As parents, we need to be aware of this truth and teach our kids to be aware of it also.
Another important factor in encouraging our children’s faith is to be willing to discuss their doubts and spiritual struggles. The Fuller Youth Institute recently launched a three year study that looked at 500 youth group graduates. Over 70% of churchgoing high schoolers reported having serious doubts about their faith. The students’ opportunities to express and explore their doubts with adults correlated with a greater spiritual maturity in time. Often parents are afraid of conversations about faith because they don’t know the answer to difficult questions or worry they might say the wrong thing. But often kids just need the opportunity to express themselves and simply need their parent to be willing to go there with them. It’s even better if the parent agrees to seek out answers with their child and explore their questions. And, when parents share their own journeys of faith and struggles, it opens the door to faith conversations. And that is healthy.
Finally it is important to remember that children are not robots. The passing of the baton process is not guaranteed success due to some formula. Often we think that if we provide a Christian home environment, and a Christian school, and keep them active in a church ministry then our children with automatically be committed Christians. But that discounts human nature - the choices our children make regarding their faith and their desire (or lack of) to know God. Of course parents will make mistakes, but the bottom line is that those blunders do not determine a child’s authentic faith. Ultimately the child must make those choices. So we are back where we started - God has no grandchildren.
Our desire is that our children develop a genuine and viable faith, and our prayer is that we will lead them to do it well. Whatever unintentional mistakes parents and children make, God’s grace sustains us all. Pass the baton with wisdom and grace, and watch God work in your children’s lives.
Throughout the centuries of the church, Christian writers have expressed the deepest thoughts and longings of those who are seriously seeking to live a devout Christian life. While there are thousands of writers who have greatly influenced readers, none would be more significant that those who have penned their own devotional thoughts and insights. From medieval mystics like Julian of Norwich to contemporary writers such as Catherine Marshall or Kathleen Norris, their themes are similar in the devotional genre relating to life and faith. Regardless of the era, the purpose of this type of literature is directed toward satisfying the spiritual hunger if the reader. Since medieval times, Christian women in particular have sought through writing to find strength to meet the demands of life. This devotional style of literature seems to meet the universal need of spiritual nurturing and of seeking to make God relevant in one’s everyday life. This is especially interesting when one looks at the diverse lifestyles and experiences of women across the past thousand years. Some of these women were part of the monastic movement, unmarried and childless, with hours to pray, meditate and to record their contemplative thoughts. Others have struggled with family duties, serious illnesses, difficult marital situation and heartaches that are too great to bear. Some of these writers are genuine mystics, while others are very practical and modern in their approach to Scripture and its application to daily life. (We don’t know much about women from early church period, only what men have written about them. There was no public speaking or teaching, only women in convents were literate). Their writings, though, are transcendent, in that they rise above the particular historical period they are written, and relate on a heart level, to the common experiences of believers.
This type of literature can take various forms. Some are in calendar outline, others in short meditations. A devotional may be penned in book form, with chapters, intended for meditation rather than daily use. Often it is similar to a diary or a journal. Whatever form it takes, the purposes are generally the same: self introspection and spiritualencouragement, mostly taken from the author’s own experiences and insights. It is common for the devotional thought to consist of a scripture reference, quote or an account of a Biblical event. From that point, the writer explores various applications with her own perspective and wisdom. Often a prayer or a meditative thought is included.
It is interesting that so many popular devotional books today were written almost a century ago, including Streams in the Desert by Lettie Cowman and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. It is also remarkable that many contemporary devotional writers have studied the medieval writers,, drawing upon their spiritual experiences and showing a timeless appreciation of their devotional work. The writers of these books aree generally unknown in the literary world, yet their works have influenced thousands of people. They often present interesting historical and cultural statements concerning the reconciliation of Biblical truths, God’s ways and the everyday struggles of life. Often these works differ in theological details, in spirit and in thought, but the overriding themes are always inspirational and offer timeless encouragement and hope to readers of all ages and times. They are like OLD FRIENDS who continue to speak to us year after year.
“The medieval period was rich with Christian life, the eager search for intimacy with the living god as well as constant prayer and careful thinking in edifying relationships with other believers.” These mystics were often the inspiration for the modern day devotional writers. Writers such as Julian of Norwich emphasized the emotional and passionate element of faith. Her spiritual quest reflected an intense hunger for God and a reaction to the corruption of the church at that time. Julian was a Benedictine nun who lived in Norwich England in the 14th century. Her two best known works are Revelations of Divine Loveand Showings. Julian was well educated and was skilled in understanding the Vulgate and the teachings of the church. Her book Revelations distinguishes her today as the first great female writer in the English language (Amy Oden, In Her Own Words). As was the case with many of the mystics, Julian suffered from serious illnesses, but according to her own account, while praying one day, she heard God speak to her about His love and goodness. It was this encounter with the Lord that encouraged her to begin to write about God’s compassion and grace, love and mercy. These are the overriding themes in all her works and she used them to encourage her readers to reflect on the goodness of God. This is especially significant when we consider the times in which Julian lived.
“Given her own age’s insistence on God’s punishment for sin, Julian turns her attention to the Trinity and to Christ’s role in mediating love and compassion for a fallen humanity.”
In the middle ages, the justice and judgment of God was emphasized – Christ as warrior, King, winning victory over His (and the church’s) enemies. So, in the context of her times, this perspective was a fresh one. Julian emphasized God’s love and the human need for it. She frequently used the metaphor of Christ’s love and maternal love, which was characterized by nurturing and tenderness. She considered one’s meditating on the goodness of God to be “the highest form of prayer.”
“For we are so preciously loved by God that we cannot even comprehend it. No created being can ever know how much and how sweetly and tenderly God loves them. It is only with the help of His grace that we are able to persevere in spiritual contemplation with endless wonder at his high, surpassing, immeasurable love which our Lord in His goodness has for us.”
Julian’s obervations are important in light of the modern Christian’s perception of God’s goodness. Some people consider God’s goodness to be show primarily in His material blessings, but her emphasis on divine love and the spiritual life of devotion and prayer helps the searching soul to see the spiritual dimension of God’s great love for mankind.
Another well known mystical devotional writer is Teresa of Avila who lived in Spain in the 16th century. Always interested in spirituality, Teresa entered a Carmelite convent in the city of Avila at age 20. While there she became seriously ill and was forced to spend time in quietness, reading books about the spiritual life. Soon after her recovery, she had a vision of Christ. This vision led her to establish new Carmelite convents that were soley devoted to the contemplative life and the study of Scripture. She was a “reformer” of the medieval church and worked alongside John of the Cross by establishing 14 monasteries. She is quoted as once saying, “How is it, my God, that Youhave given me this hectic life and so little time to enjoy Your presence?” (Now really! How busy can you be in a convent!!) However, she is best known for her devotions on the spiritual life in her works Autobiography, Way of Perfection and Interior Castle.Her theme is always prayer, and in Interior Castle, she describes the spiritual journey in allegory, using the rooms of a castle. She begins with the soul outside of the castle, then entering the castle and traveling through the many rooms until it reaches the center room where it is united with God. Using this word picture, Teresa urges her readers to engage in serious prayer and strive to reach oneness with God. Her unique view of prayer and service is illustrated throughout this book. Much of Teresa’s work is difficult to understand, but her emphasis is always on spiritual growth. Unlike some ascetics, Teresa’s focus was not on penance, but on developing an increasing love for God and for His people.
“For our works have no value unless they are united with faith, and our faith has no value unless it is united with works. May God grant us the ability to see how much we cost him, to see that the servant is not greater than the Masster, to see that we must work if we would enjoy His glory. For this reason we must pray, lest we continually enter into temptation.” 
The writings of mystic Jeanne-Marie Guyon are one of the great legacies of the church. Madame Guyon lived in late 17th century France. One can not truly appreciate the spiritual understanding and depth of Guyon unless one understands the context of her times. The 17th century world was very cynical, skeptical and disillusioned with religious institutions. This was primarily due to the Thirty Years War and the depraved court life of Louis XIV, who claimed to be a Christian. Additionally, the movement of rationalism was emerging, signaling a fascination with the intellect. Therefore, a heartfelt faith in Christ was not only viewed with disdain, but was also seen as a threat, since anything that might destabilize the church would destabilize the government. That in turn would cause the nobility to lose its wealth and influence. Thus, Madame Guyon’s faith in Jesus was seen as a threat to the religious and social order of the day. The church was corrupt, and it valued human reasoning and internal politics more than faith. Because of these conditions and because of her openness regarding her prayer life and her walk with God, Madame Guyon faced intense persecution.
Although she was born into a religious family, Guyone suffered illness and rejection as a child. She married early (as most women did) and endured more suffering and abuse from her invalid husband and mother in law. For the rest of her life she endured persecution and imprisonment, simply because she believed with all her heart (and insisted on sharing this with others) that Christians should experience the richness of personal prayer with God. This was one of her major themes – finding a spiritually deep, personal walk with God. After being widowed, Madame Guyon traveled extensively through France and Switzerland teaching on the contemplation of God. She was soon imprisoned by jealous authorities who resented her popularity with the common people and saw her faith as a threat to the church. Most of her sixty books and poems were written while in the Bastille. One of her great contributions to devotional literature is the book entitled Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, which she wrote during the time of her imprisonment. This book reportedly had enormous influence on Watchman Nee, Francois Fenelon, John Wesley and Hudson Taylor. It is also said that Adonirum Judson, the martyred American missionary to Burma, comforted himself in prison by repeating Guyon’s verse to God:
No bliss I seek, but to fulfill
In life, in death, Thy lovely will
No succor in my woes I want
Except what Thou art pleased to grant
Our days are numbered – let us spare
Our anxious hearts a needless care;
‘Tis Thine to number out our days,
And ours to give them to Thy praise.
Although Madame Guyon was not the leader of an official reform movement, her influence was profoundly felt in Europe and still is today. She is widely read and is regarded as one of the greats in mystical devotional literature.
Frances Ridley Havergal was a devotional writer, poet, hymnist, and musician who was born in 1836 to a cultured, religious family in Worcestershire, England. She was the youngest child of William Havergal, a church musician who wrote around one hundred hymns. Frances was very bright and began reading the Bible at age four and age seven she began writing verse. At fourteen she was converted and began memorizing the New Testament and Psalms. She was educated at private schools in England and Germany, where she excelled at language, particularly Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Although she was a socially refined woman, Frances had a simple, but strong, faith in her Lord. She was disciplined in prayer and once stated that she never wrote a line without first praying over it. Gradually, all of her work was directed toward sacred music and devotional writings. Her most famous hymn is “Take My Life and Let It Be”, in which she penned these words, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.” At that time she had just sent many of her lovely jewels and dressing room ornaments to her church missionary house where they would be sold and used in God’s work. Later she said, “I don’t think I ever packed a box with such pleasure.”Franceswrote many other hymns, including “I Gave My Life for Thee’, “Like a River Glorious”, and “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus”. Frances also wrote numerous devotional tracts and small books of poems and hymn texts. The themes of her work were simple faith, consecration and service. An interesting note is that she was a contemporary of another beloved hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. Although they never met, they each admired the other and corresponded by letter. In one of Frances’ letters she wrote,
“Dear blind sister over the sea,
An English heart goes forth to thee,
We are linked by a cable of faith and song,
Flashing bright sympathy swift along,
One in the east and one in the west
Singing for Him whom our souls love best
Sister, what shall our meeting soon be
When our hearts shall sing and our eyes shall see?
One of Frances’ most loved works is Royal Invitation; Daily Thoughts on Coming to
Christ,which was published in 1882.
“’Come unto Me.’ This is the Royal Invitation. For it is given by the King of kings. We are so familiar with the words, that we fail to realize them. May the Holy Spirit open our ear that we may hear the voice of our King in them, and that they may reach our souls with imperative power.”
Frances Havergal eloquently expresses the heart of believers and those who wholly
consecrate their lives to Christ.
One of the most widely read authors and outstanding missionaries of the church wasAmy Carmichael, an Irish woman who served fifty-five years in India ministering to the poor and disadvantaged. She was also an accomplished writer with thirty five books to her credit.Amywas born in 1867 and fale called to missions as a young teenager. After a short stint in Japan, she felt led to Indian, where she would spend the rest of her life. She moved to Dohnavur and became i
involved in the work for which she will always be remembered. Amy began noticing the young girls that were being sold by their families and forced to become temple prostitutes in the pagan temples. During this time, she met a young girl who had literally escaped from the Temple authorities, terrified of life there. Her mother had forced her to return (because she had sold her to the Temple priests) andher little hands had been branded with hot irons as punishment. She again ran away, and Amy immediately took her in. Thus, her rescue work began to take shape. This quickly led to bitter enemies in her community who hated her and her work and did everything within their power to thwart her ministry and rescue attempts of these young girls. Additionally, being a single woman on the mission field made life even more difficult for her. The loneliness, depression and anxiety were overwhelming to her at times, but Amy found great strength in God, who had promised her during a time of great fear of her future, that “None of them that trust in Me shall be desolate.” According to her own testimony, God fulfilled that word to her by meeting her in prayer and contemplation. It was during those years of seeing the degradation of the pagan lifestyle and intense sufferings of the Indian people that Amy wrote some of her most profound works.
One of her most well-loved devotional books is If. It was written for Christians who had “the solemn charge of caring for the souls of others”, which was her life mission. This book succinctly described the message of the cross which she calls “Calvary love.” Elizabeth Elliot credited Ifwith helping her understand that being crucified with Christ was not “a morbid thing, but the very gateway to Life.” Amy wrote “Some of the ‘ifs’ appear to be related to pride, selfishness, or cowardice, but digging deeper we come upon an unsuspected lovelessness at the root of them all.”Thisis the heart of her message: Calvary love.
“If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any, if I can speak in a casual way even of a child’s misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I put my own happiness before the well-being of the work entrusted to me; if, though I have this ministry and have received much mercy, I faint, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Her piercing words call readers across the years to love with “Calvary love”, which can only be found in a life devoted to Christ.
Springs in the Valley and Streams in the Desertare two of the most popular devotional books of the twentieth century written by Mrs. Charles (Lettie) Cowman. In order to appreciate the contribution made by Mrs. Cowman, one must first understand what was happening in the country at that time. The decade of the 1920s was the time of the Scopes “monkey trial” and anti-Darwinians. Bookstores in the country were flooded with requests for works on science and evolution. However, another instant best seller was Mrs. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert, perhaps a backlash to the anti-Christian diatribes of the day.
Charles and Lettie Cowman had been missionaries to Asia from 1901 to 1917. Because of their difficult work on the mission field and because of the heartache she endured while sitting by her husband’s deathbed for several years, Mrs. Cowman wrote Streams in the Desertin 1925 to strengthen discouraged and weary believers. Several years later she published the companion work entitled Springs in the Valley. Mrs.Cowman’s work is especially interesting because she is one of the first modern devotional writers who used the daily “calendar” form, which is a reading for each day of the year. Within her devotionals are references to many other works by outstanding Christian writers, such as F.B. Meyer, C.G. Trumbull, A.B. Simpson and other poets and religious writers. Mrs. Cowman sets up her theme of overcoming suffering by quoting Julian of Norwich in the foreword to a less known devotional book entitled Handfuls of Purpose: “He said not thou shalt not be tempted; thou shalt not be afflicted, but He did say, thou shalt not be overcome.”
Mrs. Cowman’s devotionals repeatedly emphasize this theme. First, the calendar form assumes that the believer will make time during the day for meditation each day of the year. She obviously expected her readers to read her book year after year. She uses metaphors and her own experiences to encourage her readers to do what they already know to do, not to necessarily provide them with new insights. Secondly, her titles also reflect her theme, picturing the Biblical metaphors of spiritual thirst and hunger. Mrs. Cowman writes about her own griefs, questions and sorrows, and she makes her readers her intimate companions on a spiritual quest, seeking spiritual water in the desert of life.
“’He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills’ (Psalm 104: 10). Let us claim our inheritance in these coming days, and find the hardest places of life’s experience God’s greatest opportunities and faith’s mightiest challenge. Springs in the valley are very unusual; but He will give us both the upper and the nether springs.’”
One of the best loved devotional books of all times is My Utmost for His Highestby Oswald Chambers. However, this book (and many others) was made possible only through the tireless efforts of his wife, Gertrude. Oswald Chambers was born in Scotland in 1874 and was educated at London’s Royal College of Art and at the University of Edinburgh. At the age of twenty-two he felt God calling him into ministry. Eventually he met Gertrude Hobbs who was accomplished at shorthand and stenography. They married and opened their hope in Clapham, England to students interested in Bible studies and courses that would prepare them for the ministry. Biddy (as Oswald called her), began her ministry of hospitality at this time and continued it for many, many years. When World War I began, Oswald felt God calling him to minister to the troops on the front. In October of 1915 he left Gertrude and their two and a half year old daughter, Kathleen, for Egypt. Soon after, they joined him, and Oswald served as Chaplain while Gertrude used their home for ministry. In 1917 he tragically died of complications following an operation to remove his appendix, only forty-three years old. One hundred officers escorted the gun carriage bearing the coffin. They walked the entire funeral route with arms reversed – a tribute to a beloved and respected man. Gertrude and Kathleen returned to England, and she began the painstaking work of transcribing her notes, which had been taken from her husband’s lectures. She began to send the transcripts to those who were interested, and eventually Oswald Chambers Publications was born.My Utmost for His Highestwas first published in 1923 and has remained in print ever since. In 1966 Gertrude died, knowing that she had fulfilled the ministry God had entrusted to her. This woman, who remained hidden behind the work of her husband, did a powerful work for the Kingdom of God. In the foreword to My Utmost, Gertrude gives the background of the material that was taken from Oswald’s lectures at the Bible Training College in England and at the Y.M.C.A. Huts in Egypt. She gives her reason for compiling the devotionals:
“’Men return again and again to the few who have mastered the spiritual secret, whose life has been hid with Christ in God. These are of the old time religious, hung to the nails of the cross’ (Robert Murray McCheyne).
It is because it is felt that the author is one to whom teaching men will return, that this book has been prepared, and it is sent out with the prayer that day by day the messages may continue to bring the quickening of life and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
She signs her name as only “B.C.”, a tribute to a humble woman, who found her mission in life. All believers since that time are indebted to her.
Catherine Marshall, another well known and loved Christian writer wrote devotional material, although not in a “calendar” form. Catherine, born in 1914, was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee. Always a quiet and studious young woman, Catherine attended Agnes Scott College in Georgia and graduated in 1936. While she was there, she met Peter Marshall, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Upon their marriage in 1936, Catherine immediately entered the public eye. Her husband became pastor of the prestigious New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. soon after their marriage. As one would expect, Catherine became very involved in church ministry and service. Peter Marshall was an eloquent and winsome speaker, tall and nice looking with an intriguing Scottish accent (his family had immigrated from Scotland). He quickly became very popular and respected in Christian circles, and he and Catherine enjoyed a very successful ministry together. But in 1943, Catherine was struck with tuberculosis, which was then a serious and life-threatening disease. She spent the next two years bed-ridden, struggling through a crisis of her faith.
She slowly recovered, but would be in poor health for the rest of her life. Peter Marshall suffered a serious heart attack in 1947, the year he was named as Chaplain to the United States Senate. He served in the Senate in that position for two years, until he died of a second heart attack in 1949.
Thus Catherine Marshall, at age 35, was forced to begin a new life as a widow. She was approached by the publishing company of Fleming Revell to edit some of her husband’s sermons, which resulted in the book Mr. Jones, Meet the Master. This volume became a best-seller, leading to a full biography of Peter Marshall entitled A Man CalledPeter. This book reached bestseller status in ten days and remained there for three years.Catherine then began to write extensively. She wrote To Live AgainandBeyond Ourselves, reflecting and meditating on losing a loved one and facing life alone. She wrote numerous books on prayer, including Something More, Adventures in Prayer,The Helperand A Closer Walk. One of her best known works is the inspirational novel Christy,a story which took place in the mountains of West Virginia, not far from her native Tennessee. It is significant that Catherine Marshall’s works became so well known among the American public. It should be noted that her career testified to the way in which most women’s religious concerns of her day became increasingly public throughout the course of the century. Her openness, her steadfast faith even during times of great doubt, and her desire to share her insights with others touched the hearts and minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. She was an editor of Guideposts magazine, she helped establish a publishing company, and she spoke frequently at conferences until her death in 1983. Catherine’s personal struggles with sickness and death and the believer’s hope in God’s goodness and faithfulness are the themes of her devotional writings.
“I believe that the old cliché, ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is not only misleading but often dead wrong. My most spectacular answers to prayers have come when I was so helpless, so out of control as to be able to do nothing at all for myself.
The Psalmist says, ‘When I was hemmed in, thou has freed me often.’ Gradually I have learned to recognize this hemming-in as one of God’s most loving devices for teaching us that He is real and gloriously adequate for our problems.”
A modern day devotional writer is found in best selling author Kathleen Norris. Although she does not write in the form of a daily devotional, her books clearly fit the genre of this literature. A poet and writer, Norris returned as an adult to her native South Dakota from the stimulating literary community of New York City. Her life there opened up another world to her, especially in her interaction with a Benedictine monastery in her community. Kathleen was raised a Protestant with little knowledge of religion and with many doubts regarding Christianity. Nevertheless, she often felt an interest in spiritual matters, a quest which she began in earnest as an adult writer. Her first two books were The Cloister Walk andDakota, both critically acclaimed. In these works she explores the daily demands of life with the admonitions and teachings of scripture, usually observed at the monastery. Like many devotional writers, she does not claim to always have answers to her questions, but she finds solace and rest in Biblical truths. It has been said of her,
“Norris writes in the spirit and shape of Terersa of Avila’s meditations on the language of faith, focusing on those words that before her conversion repelled, confused, or dismayed her – hard words like Christ, salvation, repentance, heresy. Hers is a theology that any woman devotional writer from the middle ages would have recognized, for not only does Norris share the shape and form but also the humility of those writers, asking readers to forgive her shortcomings while entering into the process of faith.”
In Amazing Grace; A Vocabulary of Faith,Norris begins her eighty entries with a quote (true to the devotional form). In light of this history of devotional writings, it is especially interesting that Kathleen is drawn to medieval writers and thinkers. She says,
“I think we could use more medieval thinking these days, and not less. We might come to value the mindset that could conceive of poetry, religion, medicine, and the natural sciences as discipline having more in common than not, employing much of the same language, metaphor and imagery.”
Perhaps Amazing Gracecould be considered a continuation of medieval thinking in the tradition of devotional literature. She has been called an “heir” of earlier medieval writers. The worlds of Kathleen Norris and the women mystics of medieval times are vastly different, and yet their insights reconciling faith and life are amazingly similar.
(Read from Dakota,pg 186)
Each woman who enters this genre shapes it for her own time. All of these writers and many others, reveal their hunger for spiritual nurturance and daily sustenance, obviously a universal need.
Suzanne Forbes has written an interesting book on devotional literature called Women of Devotion Through the Centuries. She makes this observation,
“The devotional is democratic, by which I mean that it turns no one away. It reflects Christ’s words, inviting everyone who is weary to come. All are welcome. None are excluded…It lies close to home, indeed even becoming home, a place for pilgrims to rest, recuperate, and then return to the daily demands life makes.”
These constantly repeated themes of suffering, hope and trust that speak to followers of Christ over hundreds of years give us a sense of transcendence. Despite the drastically diverse cultures and lifestyles between their worlds and ours, their words of wisdom, quickly digested and meditated on throughout the day give strength to the weary. These women and many others exhort us to persevere and trust our lives to our
Our church had an active women’s Bible study program and was holding our very first women’s conference. I was excited because our main speaker was Marge Caldwell, famed speaker and teacher from Houston, Texas. Marge had a huge national following and was known for her humor and wit, but she also had the gift for teaching insightful and deep truths from Scripture. I was especially thrilled that she would be staying in our home, meaning I would have some time with her alone. I was curious about what made Marge tick and was fervently hoping I could absorb some of her stellar qualities just by being around her for a couple of days.
Our daughters were elementary school age at this time and, as all kids are, mine were very curious about our house guest. When I introduced them, Marge promptly sat down on our sofa and asked them to join her. They began to eagerly converse about their day, their school, friends, likes, dislikes, you name it. I remember watching this scenario and thinking, “She’s talking to them like they were real people!” After about twenty minutes they were all BFFs and Marge was the topic of family conversations for a long time after the conference.
Marge Caldwell was a winsome woman. According to its definition, winsome is defined as “Generally pleasing and engaging; a childlike charm, one who causes pleasure, appealing.” Let’s look at those qualities a little closer:
- "Upbeat" ? A winsome woman is positive and generally cheerful, one who looks for the best in people and situations. In my opinion, it also means a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously: she can laugh at herself.
- "Childlike charm" ? There is a mountain of difference between "childishness" and "childlikeness." Childishness carries the meaning of selfishness and immaturity, but childlikeness implies innocence or simple trust. How appealing that is in a person! No sneering cynicism, sarcasm or skepticism, but a winsome woman looks for and believes in the best in others. (If you have been in ministry for a while, this can be challenging.)
- "One who causes pleasure" ? A woman who is genuinely interested in others rather than herself is a winsome woman. I doubt now if Marge Caldwell really wanted to know what was going on in the third grade at Peters Elementary, but you sure could have fooled me that day. A person who is interested in others invites conversation and sharing on a deeper level. A winsome woman can forget about herself.
In the context of ministry life, winsomeness takes on even more weight. As we meet people who know nothing of the saving grace of Christ, we must be winsome witnesses. As we help bear others burdens, we must do it with winsomeness. As we grow older, we are winsome when we encourage the younger generation and believe in them. We are winsome when we refuse to look back at hurts but look forward to God’s blessings.
The Old English root of “winsome” is wynn, which means “joy.” And that says it all.
She was weeping over the phone. Grief, anger, and frustration were pouring out of her as she told me her latest news. Her husband of over thirty years had left her for another woman. At one time he had been a deacon in their church, a respected spiritual leader. He had been a stellar dad, a loyal friend of many, and a successful businessman with a good name. But his spiritual interests had evaporated over the past several years and his heart had grown cold. The divorce was acrimonious and drawn out, she was beyond weary and devastated by it all.
But that wasn't the cause of her current anguish. She had just heard that he had already married the other woman, been promoted in his job, was traveling on exotic trips and had even returned to church. She was struggling with the age-old question: If he was so wrong to leave her, then why was his life going so well? She, on the other hand, was left to deal with broken-hearted children, financial stresses, and the humiliation of it all. Where was God in all this? Why was their life going so well and hers was so painfully difficult?
As I listened to her, I thought of Psalm 73. Asaph, the author asked the very same questions my friend was asking. Just like Asaph, she was living in Psalm 73. Look at the pattern:
In the first two verses, Asaph affirms his faith in God's goodness but then confesses that his faith is faltering. He is troubled because he sees the proud (unbelievers or the unrepentant) living in ease, wealth, and leisure. He can't reconcile what he sees with the teaching in the Law - the promises of blessings to the obedient and judgment on the disobedient. He continues to list his complaints: he is envious of their "prosperity" ("shalom" in the Hebrew). They are healthy, problem-free, boastful of their possessions, corrupt, and have no mercy on the poor. And Asaph isn't the only one troubled by all of this. God's people are confused also, asking if God even notices these injustices and what is happening in their world.
He takes his frustration a step further by asking what good has it done him to keep an obedient heart? All he has is trouble and pain. If that's not bad enough, he feels constrained to keep these observations to himself because he has influence with God's people as a leader. By verse 16, he is ready to throw in the towel and be done with it all.
But the Psalm abruptly pivots in verse 17, with a drastic change of focus. Asaph found himself in God's "sanctuary", which most likely was the Temple, the dwelling place of God's glory. Temple worship consisted of reading the Law, singing, worship, and prayer. What happened to Asaph there? His heart was softened. His attention was drawn away from the wicked to the glory and majesty of God. His focus changed from "them" to himself and God. He was no longer contrasting the wicked with the good, but looking at God alone.
We can almost hear Asaph saying, "What was I thinking?" He confessed his bitterness, his foolishness and recounted the spiritual blessings that were his "glorious destiny". He sums up his new perspective, saying, "How good it is to be near God!" Asaph ends up where he started - affirming the goodness and blessing of God.
My friend, just like Asaph, has discovered the life-giving mindset of being in "the sanctuary"- being still and entering into God's presence. Once there, her thinking was transformed and her spirit made strong, just as Asaph's was.
Occasionally I get a text from her, saying she has been in "the sanctuary" and I know exactly what that means! Living IN the Psalms has carried my friend through dark days and is a continual source of strength and comfort for her. Watching her and learning from her faith struggle has sharpened me - and driven me to the Psalms time and time again.
Believers are not exempt from struggling with the unfairness of life, just as my friend has. While their issues may not be marriage related, the principle is the same. Turning our eyes toward God and off of others brings us a fresh assurance of His presence and eternal graces toward those who trust Him and seek to live in His sanctuary.
Adversity is wrapped up in anxiety. Where there is trouble, there is also fear, worry, fretfulness and distress. Statistics tell us that over forty million Americans struggle with anxiety disorders, with women diagnosed at a rate twice that of men. Even without an official pronouncement of a “disorder”, worry affects even the most spiritually mature and faithful. It drains us spiritually, emotionally and is exhausting. How can we best manage anxiety? Here are three suggestions:
1. Face the “What if...?”
Years ago I learned a valuable lesson when I least expected it (isn't that how it always happens?) One of our young daughters had plaguing allergies. At that time, traveling always exacerbated her problems, making her miserable. One Sunday morning prior to a family trip, I ran into Luanna, one of my prayer partners. I asked her to pray that Holly's allergies would not flare up while traveling. She agreed, then casually remarked, “But if they do, it's not the end of the world.” I was stunned. I could not believe her insensitivity. I fumed all during church but later that afternoon, I began to think about it. Actually Luanna was right. Yes, it had happened before. Yes, we had managed to get through it, and no, it wasn't the end of the world. I learned something valuable that day. When I am fearful and embark on “What If Road”, the bravest thing I can do is follow it to the very end and look at the worst case scenario. Yes, the “what if” could end badly, but it rarely does. And even if the worst happens, hasn't God given us assurances of His faithfulness and provision? Do I truly believe Him? Facing a fear boldly is empowering and keeps us anchored to God's promises.
2. Remind yourself how little control you actually have over your life.
Our anxieties should remind us that we have needs and limitations that only Jesus can manage. To expend energy worrying over something we cannot control is counter productive. Rhett Smith, an author and therapist says in “The Anxious Christian” that God can use anxiety to bring us closer to Him. Fellow worrier Laura Ortberg Turner says, “...anxiety can remind me constantly and fruitfully of my joyful dependence on and confidence in God.”
3. Cultivate gratitude. “Gratitude is the key that unlocks the door of an anxious and fearful heart.”
This is the most effective method to manage worry - recounting specific instances of God's goodness and care for us, and thanking Him for it. I recently laid awake for hours one night, imagining the worst scenario for one of my family members. Yes, it was the “What If” trap, and once again, I tumbled right into it. The next morning I realized how foolish I had been (things always seem worse at night) and I repented, asking God's forgiveness. I was so ashamed. How dishonoring that was to my Lord Who has poured out blessing upon blessing upon me and mine! I realized anew- gratitude is my best weapon against my anxieties.
It is reassuring that Jesus knew that life would bring us worries. He put it succinctly in John 14: 1, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me”.
What is the ultimate cure for anxiety? Jesus Himself, and He invites us to share our wearisome burdens with Him, “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”, (Matt. 11:28-29.)
Jealousy, or envy, has been a root cause of devastating sin in the church and this world, and we would be wise to take a more serious look at it. Jealousy is so easy to fall into because it plays into our insecurities. It kills love, destroys friendships and is like a malignancy of the spirit (see above scripture.)
I recently ran across a book by R.T. Kendall, Jealousy; The Sin No One Talks About. I can't possibly do his book justice here, so I encourage you to read it for yourself. R.T. has a unique way of being very direct, applying common sense and keen biblical insight to a subject, which makes for an excellent perspective. His title is spot on - we don’t talk about our jealousies because its, well, embarrassing and makes us look petulant, immature and selfish - which we often are.
If you do a word study on this topic, you will find hundreds of references to jealousy and envy, as they are synonyms. However, R.T. differentiates between the two in that envy is a more passive emotion, usually resulting from covetousness. Jealousy, however, goes beyond envy and is more active, a resentment of others successes. It is “bent on vengeance”. But both are equally destructive.
I have told my children countless times (and reminded myself) that anyone can weep with you. It is only your true friends who will rejoice with you when you are successful or blessed- and there may be less of them than you might think. You can lay that at the feet of jealousy.
Focusing on this theme in scripture reveals that it was the root cause of all kinds of evil, from the beginning of human history. Sibling rivalry was fueled by jealousy - think of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and Aaron and Miriam - and that just takes us through Numbers! (I suspect it is still a major cause of fractured relationships between adult siblings today). It was raging jealousy that led to the death plots of David, the infants of Bethlehem, John the Baptist and Jesus. Matthew tells us that the Pharisees plotted Jesus’ death because of their “envy” of him and his popularity. This is a serious sin, we best not take it lightly.
But Scripture also speaks of godly jealousy, and this is an interesting twist on this subject. R.T. says, “God's Jealousy Proves His Love”. God's jealousy is not sin, but springs from His immense love for us and His desire for our good. In contrast, human jealousy comes out of selfish desires, resentment and impure motives. The Scripture above clearly indicates that peace of mind and jealousy are polar opposites.
So the question is this: what do we do when jealousy sets in? Here are a few suggestions:
Admit it, say it, call it out: “I am jealous of______ because_________.” This step is the most difficult, as we hate to admit our sin. But we also must ask the Spirit to help us understand the root of our problem, the cause of our jealousy.
Confess it as sin.
Pray a blessing on those of whom you are jealous. Pray it until you mean it.
Spend some time focusing on your own uniqueness, your calling, who you are, how God has gifted, blessed and used you.
Finally, cultivate thankfulness for God's blessings in your life.