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Immaturity Cannot Tolerate Ambiguity

Immaturity Cannot Tolerate Ambiguity

Background: Elisabeth Elliot was a young missionary in Ecuador when members of a remote Amazonian indigenous people group killed her husband Jim and his four colleagues. And yet, she stayed in the jungle with her young daughter to minister to the very people who had thrown the spears, demonstrating the power of Christ’s forgiveness.

This courageous, no-nonsense Christian went on to write dozens of books, host a long-running radio show, and speak at conferences all over the world. She was a pillar of coherent, committed faith—a beloved and sometimes controversial icon. And while things in the limelight might have looked golden, her suffering continued refining her in many different and unexpected ways” (cited from https://ellenvaughn.com/elliot/)

Elisabeth was not sure what to do about all these opportunities. “I don’t feel that I can further the ‘cause’ of missions much, if that is what they want, but I could tell them some personal things the Lord has showed me . . . But I feel, too, that that is what I should be writing.”¹ 

She was invited to speak at the King’s College, a Christian institution in New York. Its president, a well-known evangelical leader, had never met her before. Elisabeth was put off by his instant familiarity and backslapping enthusiasm, which felt contrived to her. He escorted her to the chapel, where 400 students waited. There was a rousing hymn and then the type of introduction Elisabeth had heard many times . . . “Author, missionary to the savage Waodani who martyred” her husband and four other brave missionaries, but God used it to bring a great harvest for the Kingdom. 

The president continued. “And now we’re happy to have Mrs. Elliot, who I know has a real burden for soulwinning and for getting you young people stirred up for the mission field.” 

Elisabeth stood, not feeling very “stirred up” herself. She wasn’t sure she could emotionally induce young people to sign up for missions.² She believed she was there to talk about what she knew to be true, what she had experienced in Ecuador, and what she had learned about God in those hard situations. No spin. 

“I fear,” she told the students in her precise and dispassionate way, “that your esteemed president has invited the wrong speaker for chapel. I want to talk simply about knowing God.” 

“[The president] hadn’t a clue what I was getting at,” Elisabeth told her family later. He “said ‘Amen’ at inappropriate intervals, thanked me at the end, handed me a check, and said goodbye.”³ 

She went from the college chapel to a women’s luncheon for 400, with a lovely spring hat fashion show before her talk. An evening or two later she spoke at a church meeting that the acerbic Elisabeth deemed “dreadful. Hollow mockery, the show, the missionary machine, the Gospel business, the introduction of me, the total lack of comprehension of what I was saying, the sheer phoniness of everything about it. Van and I came away appalled.”⁴ 

A week or two later she traveled to a Christian school called Barrington College in Rhode Island to speak, along with others, at a “vision-vocation conference.” 

She dreaded it. 

“It was jammed, to my surprise, and I felt that it was the most eager, attentive, and intelligent audience to which I had ever spoken. It was a great pleasure, indeed, after the kind of church audiences I have faced.”⁵ 

She showed color slides with scenes from her time among the Waodani. She spoke on knowing God, using Isaiah 43:10 as her base, and the passage from Exodus that had been so meaningful to her in Ecuador. In it, God told Moses to do something that was in fact doomed to failure. “I will send you, I will be with you, but Pharaoh will not listen to you.” 

What does faith look like, Elisabeth asked, when the “results” of obedience cannot be seen? How do we understand ministry apart from impressive statistics and victorious stories? 

“Several told me they had never heard anything like it,” Elisabeth said later in the same letter to family. “The attitude of students and faculty alike was one of earnest seeking for truth, an openness and willingness to listen to something new which I simply have not found in churches—there seems to be such intellectual sterility, such insufferable bigotry in the churches.” 

Elisabeth spent several nights at the school, which was housed on a former estate from the early 1920s, with heavy stonework, bleak rooms, sweeping lawns, and pools with dolphin statues. It reminded her of Wuthering Heights. But each speaking session buoyed her. A faculty gathering made her feel that “there were still a few people in the world who are on my wave-length! And naturally one cannot help feeling that those who see his point are exceptionally intelligent,” she joked in a letter to her family. “I have never had so many kind expressions of appreciation, and the people there treated me like a human being, instead of a commodity, which is the feeling I usually get.”⁶ 

She spoke on the book of Job, an ongoing theme in her study and contemplation. She was fascinated by Job’s honesty before God, and the fact that, far from condemning Job for impertinent questions, God commended him for that honesty. Elisabeth spoke about “the dishonesty in mission representation, our false sense of what it means to believe God, our mistaken idea of what it means to serve God.” 

To Elisabeth, Job’s friends who had assumed that God could only act in certain ways, and therefore Job must have sinned in order to bring such suffering upon himself, were like modern-day Christians who put God in a box. She was “disturbed by the tendency of missionary speakers to sidestep their real questions and try to defend the Gospel which they don’t really understand themselves.” 

God was mysterious. The universe was not so predictably dictated by cause and effect. When Job’s poor friends equated Job’s suffering with God’s judgment of sin in his life, they “were up against something far too big for them, something their categories did not cover. So, rather than admit to ignorance, they resort to oversimplifications, snap judgments, easy cliches—which amount to lying.”

My Heart Sings

My Heart Sings

My Heart Sings

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble, you are my strength, I sing praise to you; You, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely. Psalm 59:16-17 

I grew up in a household where music was a constant. Raised on gospel and country music, I once dreamed of being a backup singer to Ronnie Milsap, a country music artist born blind. Although I lost sight of that dream, I did get my picture made with him as a teenager when he visited the local K-Mart.  

From country to gospel to contemporary worship songs, God often ministers to me through music. Music pierces my heart, speaking to the deepest parts of my soul.  

Worshipping the Lord through music moves me. It connects me with God and people as we enjoy music together. It sustained me through the death of our infant daughter and then later through the death of my husband.  

The power of music provides direction, especially during difficult times.  

God Shows Up When Praise is Offered 

King David began the first ministry of music. We see in the book of 2 Chronicles that God actually commanded him to do it. Years later, King Hezekiah purified the temple and once again incorporated music into their worship.  

“He stationed the Levites in the temple of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the Lord through his prophets.” 2 Chronicles 19:25 

Often, we are told to praise and worship God throughout Scripture. God Almighty, the God of the universe, the Alpha and Omega, says music plays an important role in our worship. Scripture tells us God acts in response to praise through music. King David’s life epitomizes this. David praised God often. The result? 2 Chronicles 18:13 tells us that the Lord gave David victory everywhere he went.  

The presence and power of God often present themselves through music. This happened with the prophet Elisha. Music ministered to Elisha before prophesying. It was common at that time to call upon musicians to calm the mind and ease stress. He would need to think clearly to discern the voice and will of God.  

Elisha requested a harpist and when the harpist played, God’s power was released on Elisha.  

But now bring me a harpist. While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha.” 2 Kings 3:15  

Wow. Did you see that? I know exactly how this feels. Sometimes, while listening to a song, I can sense God’s presence and He impresses upon me very clearly what He wants me to hear. I may not hear audible words, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is Him speaking. Worship takes us from focusing on ourselves to focusing on God.  

Praise Delivers Us in Battle 

Praise is a force to be reckoned with. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of the Kingdom of Judah. He campaigned against idolatry and led the people to renew their worship of the One True God. He championed peace between Israel and Judah. In his desperation for God to be with his army, he appointed singers to go out before them. Their only job was to praise God through song and the playing of holy instruments.  

After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 

“Give thanks to the Lord, For his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 20: 21-22 

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seer who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. Don’t miss this — they hadn’t even won the battle yet, but they knew they would because God had told them He would deliver them.  

Oh, that we would worship like that, pray like that. It may seem like we are walking right into the battle of our lives. How can we react like Jehoshaphat? As I write this, I am praying for a dear friend who will undergo double mastectomy surgery in only a few hours. I want to pray in desperation — not that God will show up because I know He is already with her, but to pray thirsting and longing for more of His presence in her life and in mine.  

As the Israelites did before battle, I want to rejoice in what God will do before I even see the results.  

God Moves Through Song  

Another story in the New Testament illustrates the power of praising God even in the midst of a great trial. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison in Rome for casting out a spirit from a slave girl who earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  

While in prison, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns. They were in a desperate situation — unjustly locked up for preaching the gospel — but they still praised the Lord. They were beaten to the point they thought they would wake up in Heaven.  

Here’s the point. They chose to praise the Lord. They may have been in chains, but they were free to praise His name. As a matter of fact, they praised the Lord until the walls began to shake. Let’s take a look at the account from the book of Acts.  

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. Acts 16:25-26 

I’d say that moment of audible worship completely changed the atmosphere in the walls of that prison. The men there could not have missed the power and glory of God in that moment.  

And we don’t want to miss the glory of God either. But for many, seasons of grief and loss are symbolic of Paul and Silas’ time in prison. A place of confinement, a prison can represent different aspects of our lives like grief, sadness, bitterness, fear, worry, and anxiety. We can be bound by our own feelings and negative emotions. They can become a stronghold in our lives, trapping us in our circumstances. 

But that is not where God wants us. The good news is that we don’t have to stay bound by negative emotions or our circumstances. Our worship can move us from being bound to raising our minds and hearts above the stress of our circumstances and focusing on God.  

The Lord is able to deliver us from every battle and trial. Let’s worship Him in song and experience the power that can break our chains and make a way for God to move in our hearts.  

Music Changes Your Life  

Music can change your life forever. Countless times in my life, God has unequivocally carried me through difficulties with music. When my husband and I found out in 2001 that our unborn baby would not live once I gave birth, God used the song by Greg Long – In the Waiting – to help me make it through those four heart-wrenching months. 

And also, as a widow, there have been many special songs that have ministered to me during my grief journey. Lauren Daigle’s Trust in You is another one that encourages us to let go of our worries, our trials — even our dreams — and let God have His way in our lives. When we lay them at the feet of Jesus, we have the capacity to receive His best for our lives.  

God gave us the gift of song.  

From King David to Paul and Silas to your own version of worship in the car, music with Biblical messages and scripture soothes our minds and soul. The Word of God is our most powerful weapon against the enemy, but we must know it for it to help break down our prison walls. Many praise and worship songs quote Scripture directly. Listening to it can also be a big help in learning scripture.  

Music was first ordered by God himself. It is powerful. It is healing. And it produces results.

Raised among the cypress trees and bayous of the Louisiana Delta, Patricia Cameron learned early on to cherish God and family. After her biggest trial tested her faith, she now aspires to help others see that God is worthy of praise, even in times of grief. Patricia’s debut book Grief Unwrapped: Discovering Joy in a Season of Sorrow published in November 2022. Connect with Patricia at patriciacameronwrites.com.

The Fruit of Trust: Obedience

The Fruit of Trust: Obedience

I like to think obedience is God’s love language. Yes, we can love God with our words as we lavish praise upon Him, but I believe it is the yielding of our lives that bring Him the most honor.

I grew up in church as a pastor’s kid, and have always had a love for the Lord. From my earliest memories, I was memorizing scriptures and learning different bible stories, and I’m grateful to say that I loved growing up this way. I had a clear grasp on what was right and what was wrong, according to the Bible, throughout my teenage years. By no means did I live perfectly, but I had no problem saying “no” to things that wouldn’t build up my faith. Somewhere along the way, this desire to please God and do what was right became a long list of things I don’t do; “I don’t drink”, “I don’t curse”, or “I don’t party”. I remember God taking me on this beautiful journey of realizing it wasn’t about just acting the “right” way, it was about the posture of my heart. To live for God and obey His commands is more about surrender than it is striving. 

Obedience must be birthed out of love, not religious obligation. John 14:15 says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” There were many things I said “no” to growing up out of a RULES motivated religion, not an obedience born out of sincere relationship. The Lord is now teaching me how to live for him, give up worthless ways, and surrender everything to him simply out of my love for Him. When you truly love someone, you desire to do what pleases them. I’ve found the more that I fall in love with Jesus, the more I realize His ways are truly better than my own and I long to live in a way that makes Him smile. I don’t obey the Lord because He is some dictator that forces me to. I obey Him because I love Him so much and want to do His will. 

Obedience is the fruit of trust. When we say “God I will do whatever you ask of me,” we are also saying “I trust that you know what is best for me.” God has been teaching me the importance of immediate obedience. When he speaks to me or impresses something on my heart, I want my first response to be “Yes Lord!” Because I trust you, I don’t even need to contemplate or over-think what you’re telling me. It’s simple. I love you enough to obey you AND I trust you enough to follow your instructions. Cultivating both love and trust are required for immediate obedience. 1 John 5:3 says. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” I love the fact that God is not calling us to a life that is impossible to live. Because we have the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus, we are able to live in a way that honors Him. Falling in love with Jesus and serving Him is the most free and fulfilling journey. Although we do walk through suffering in this life, living obedient to the will and ways of God keeps us from the struggle and suffering that is caused by a life of sin.

Sometimes obedience is saying no to things that God will ask us to lay down. And other times, obedience is saying yes to things that he’s calling us into. What is important is that our answer is motivated by love. I wouldn’t want to live any other way than living in full surrender to the fullness of God’s plan.

Tiffany Hudson grew up in the church as a Pastor’s kid always knowing she wanted to be in ministry. It was also at her parent’s church where she started honing in on her worship-leading skills, learning to play multiple instruments and write songs. As a songwriter, any time she gets the opportunity to write is, as she explains, “a humbling experience to try and pen God’s wonder. It’s a weight and a responsibility to put confessions in other people’s mouths to say to God.” Tiffany Hudson never dreamed of having a solo artist career, but it was when she felt an invitation from the Lord in early 2022 that she even considered releasing her own songs. “After a season of what felt like a creative drought, I began to sit down at my piano and felt the Lord begin to download songs and themes,” she shares about the process of making her first solo project. “This began a personal journey of sitting with Him, writing, co-writing, and desiring to present the things He placed in my heart. It’s always a humbling experience to try and pen God’s wonder. It’s a weight and a responsibility to put confessions in other people’s mouths to say to God. ”  Hudson is an award-winning songwriter (“Graves Into Gardens,” “Wait On You,” “Never Lost,” among others), a member of the GRAMMY® Award-winning group Elevation Worship, and a worship leader at Elevation Church. She has also been honored to be part of the numerous accolades Elevation Worship has received: RIAA Gold® certification, a GRAMMY Award®, two Billboard Music Awards®, and two GMA Dove Awards®. Tiffany’s solo debut album, Hidden Here, is available everywhere now.

Two Ways Anxiety Affects Parents

Two Ways Anxiety Affects Parents

In my thirty-plus years of counseling, I’ve never seen parents feel as much pressure or as much like failures as they do today. I’ve never had as many parents in tears in my office. And I’ve certainly never seen as many parents who live in a perpetual state of worry. 

How would you say worry affects you, as a parent? I certainly believe, after sitting with parents day in and day out in my office, that not only do you worry more because you are a parent, but those worries affect you differently as well. I list five ways anxiety affects parents in my new book, The Worry-Free Parent, but here I want to highlight two major ways anxiety impacts the parent.  

1. Anxiety distracts us. 

One of the things I hear parents say most often is how distracting anxiety is. In fact, I’ve learned through my work with kids and parents that anxiety and ADHD, particularly the inattentive kind, are almost identical symptomatically. Both cause restlessness, a lack of focus, difficulty regulating emotions, and even sleep impairment. Do any of those sound familiar? Even more specifically, have you ever found yourself 

  • not listening to your child because you’re worried about what’s happening next on your schedule?
  • unable to remember the conversation you had with your daughter before the birthday party because you were concerned about how she would do once she got to the party?
  • unable to laugh and play with your kids, simply because of all that’s pressing in on you?

There are a million ways worry distracts us on a daily basis. But maybe one of the saddest is that it robs us of time connecting with the kids we love—really connecting in hear-their-words and look-them-in-the-eyes ways. That connection is foundational not only to building but to maintaining your relationship over the long haul. And the long haul really isn’t long enough. We want to be present for these long days and short years. We want to be able to let go of our worries in a way that keeps us in the moment, instead of imagining the future years based more on our anxious distortions than on reality. 

2. Anxiety makes us attach future meaning to present problems.

In my counseling practice with kids and teens, I hear the same refrain from parents every day:  

“I don’t think I’m preparing my child well for the future.” 

“I haven’t had him in travel sports, and now he’ll never be able to keep up at a high school level.” 

“I haven’t had her in enough Kumon classes or tutoring, and now she won’t be able to get into the right school that will help her get into the right college.” 

“She didn’t start cheerleading at four, and now we’ve lost our chance for her to ever make a competitive team.” 

Do you hear the familiar thread? The parent fears something not done today will negatively impact their child’s tomorrow.  

The worries can be over what we believe we haven’t offered them. The sports or academics or lessons or learning opportunities we believe we’ve missed that will hinder our child’s future in some life-altering way. Or the characteristics we haven’t taught. The things we feel “all the other parents” have been doing that we haven’t been able to get done. We haven’t started chores. We haven’t been saying our grateful lists at the dinner table.  

We’re not keeping up, which means our children won’t be able to keep up—or measure up—in all the ways that will lead to their success, our anxiety tells us. But it’s simply not true. 

The worries can also be over skills or traits our kids currently lack. 

“Because he can’t sit still in kindergarten means he’ll never make it in grade school, and there’s no way he’ll be able to hold a job when he’s older.” 

“How will she ever be able to function as an adult when she doesn’t keep her room clean now?” 

“If he’s not responsible enough to remember to take out the trash at thirteen, why would I ever believe he’d be responsible enough to drive a car?” 

“She thinks about herself all the time as a middle schooler. I’m not sure how she’ll ever be able to have a healthy, caring relationship with another person.” 

The list goes on and on. In our worry, we become fortune tellers for our kids. We decide what’s happening now will be happening five, ten, even twenty years from now. Or what’s not happening now—either what we missed or the characteristics we believe they’re missing—will handicap them for the rest of their lives. 

Kids are developing people. Their job is to learn under our roof while they’re still home with us and we can help them learn. Our job is to eventually raise healthy, well-functioning adults. Eventually is the key word. They are not those adults yet. 

In terms of brain development, the last portions of our brains to develop are the frontal lobes, which house the executive functioning part of our brains. The frontal lobes help develop our working memories, dictate impulse control, help us think logically, manage our emotions, and plan for the future. In the last twenty years, neuroimaging research has taught us those frontal lobes may not be fully developed until approximately age twenty-five.i Your eight-year-old isn’t capable of managing her emotions in the same way she will be at eighteen. Your twelve-year-old doesn’t yet have the skills to carry the same responsibilities he will be able to at twenty. Your fourteen-year-old is somewhat narcissistic. It’s a normal and even an important stopover on the journey of development and individuation for all kids. The narcissism will fade. He will get there. And so will she. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the kids we love, our worries take over and cause our shortsightedness to become long reaching. We decide, based on their own developmental immaturity, that something is wrong. They already should be able to _____________ (fill in the blank). Rather than seeing the gap as a normal part of their development, we believe it’s a character flaw. And worse still, one that will mark their lives, both personally and professionally, forever. 

What is one way you’ve been fortune-telling about your child’s life? What’s a future, problematic meaning you’ve attached to an area in which they’re still growing? 

Your child is growing into who God has created him or her to be. It is a journey and one that takes many unexpected and messy twists and turns along the way. Think back on your own becoming. What were some of your missteps, and how have they impacted your adulthood? What were some of the clumsier, less mature moments, and how have those contributed to who you are? My guess is that all of them have folded into the strengths, the character, and the wisdom that now mark not only your life but your parenthood. The same will be true for your kids. Trust the process. Trust your child. And trust that there is Someone in charge who is a much better predictor of the future than you or I.

Excerpted from The Worry-Free Parent by Sissy Goff. Copyright © August 2023 by Bethany Publishing House. Used by permission. www.RaisingBoysandGirls.com

Sissy Goff, LPC-MHSP, has worked as the director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries since 1993. She speaks to parents and children’s ministers across the country and is a frequent guest on media outlets such as Southern Living, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Good Morning America, Focus on the Family, That Sounds Fun, Family Life Today, Fox News, and many more. Sissy Goff is the author of 13 books including her latest, The Worry-Free Parent. She co-hosts the chart-topping Raising Boys and Girls podcast, with fellow Daystar Counselor David Thomas. The podcast just celebrated more than 5 million downloads to date. www.RaisingBoysandGirls.com @RaisingBoysandGirls  

Embodied Trust

Embodied Trust

To be human is to suffer. As we will eventually see, the question is not if we each suffer. It is, rather, To what degree are we aware of it? and How are we in relationship with and responding to it? These questions reveal not only the story we believe we are living in, but the role that suffering plays in that narrative. 

I make no promise that we will suffer less. But I am confident that we will suffer differently and will become even more durably hopeful as a result. Primarily, I expect us to come to see that hope is actually a word that, in the world of interpersonal neurobiology, serves as a proxy for an ever-deepening attachment love with Jesus and the commensurate awareness of God’s relational presence of lovingkindness.  

I’d like to invite you to pause and direct your attention to what you perceive your embodied responses to be when you consider what it means to “trust” God. Your embodied responses are what you sense in your body upon imagining Jesus telling you, “Indeed, it is finished. It’s all done. All those things that we both know keep you from receiving my love for you—I’m not paying attention to them. I’m paying attention to you. And I want you to only pay attention to me. I want you at my banquet. I want you sitting right next to me and to the others who I know can’t wait to sit next to you when they see you. I would love for you to believe me—that it’s all true.” 

How difficult is it to receive that? What do you sense, imagine, feel, think, and want to do physically in response to hearing Jesus say this? Moreover, were you to imagine such an encounter, could you receive it as having represented something genuine, something real that has taken place in the real world? Or, since we have come to believe that if we are imagining something “in our minds” then it could not possibly “exist” as a real event in the real world, would you dismiss it? 

We have been trained by many cultural forces over the last five hundred years to believe that if something can’t be currently measured in material terms, if it is limited to the “imagination,” then it can’t be “real.” But you know that just because you can’t see your friend sitting before you and can only imagine their face and the sound of their voice in your mind, they are not merely imaginary. 

What are we to do with findings of research that demonstrate how athletes and musicians can enhance their performance on the court or in the concert hall by repeatedly practicing those very actions in their imaginations?i They are effectively shifting their embodied responses in certain contexts (the athletic court and the concert hall) by wiring their brains to anticipate those very scenarios. In this way, their brains—from which emerge the functional feature of their imaginations and their conscious awareness of them—and then, by extension, the actions they take as a result are essentially on a continuum, connected as they are within their bodies and to the intentionality of the musician or athlete. 

Similarly, who of your friends could tell you how they feel about you and you would live, at least for the next few hours, as if you believed them? As if what you felt in your chest was real. On more occasions than I can tell you, people have told me how much I mean to them, how much they love me, only for their words and presence to vanish like vapor from my mind the moment they are no longer in my sight. 

I am left with only the memory of what they have said and what I sensed, imaged (that is, to literally construct a visual image in my mind), felt, and thought as they said it—and often the memory is not durable enough for me to sustain the same felt sense of their affection for me which I had for that brief moment. Hence, I have to practice—literally—bringing those moments to memory over and over in order for them to become embedded not only in my cognitive recollection but in my embodied sensations, feelings, and images as well. 

In this way, by practicing with real, embodied relationships in my here-and-now life, I am granted what it gets close to being like when I imagine Jesus coming for me in the same way. This is how the body of Jesus works, and it is why Paul’s words of us being Jesus’s body, and not merely his followers or his church, capture everything that we are to become for each other and the world. And it is why hope is first given life in the context of securely attached, physically remembered relationships rather than being merely a function of our cognition. 

Hope—the future state of time that our minds long to occupy—must begin with a relationally grounded, material experience with Jesus mediated through the Spirit, the Scriptures, and, often most powerfully, his body. We become increasingly receptive, experientially and thereby theologically, to our having been justified—declared free of our guilt and shame and welcomed into God’s family—to the degree that we encounter that justification in an embodied fashion, one in which we are ever living into earned secure attachment. Upon this taking place, the prospect of hope—even in the presence of suffering—begins to form in our minds.

Taken from The Deepest Place  by Curt Thompson.  Copyright © 2023 by Curt Thompson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Inspired by deep compassion for others and informed from a Christian perspective, psychiatrist Curt Thompson, MD shares fresh insights and practical applications for developing more authentic relationships and fully experiencing our deepest longing: to be known. 

Through his workshops, speaking engagements, books, organizational consulting, private clinical practice, and other platforms, he helps people process their longings, grief, identity, purpose, perspective of God, and perspective of humanity, inviting them to engage more authentically with their own stories and their relationships. Only then can they feel truly known and connected and live into the meaningful reality they desire to create. Curt and his wife, Phyllis, live outside of Washington DC and have two adult children.

Sharing Jesus Through Servanthood

Sharing Jesus Through Servanthood

Servanthood shapes our lives in a vast number of ways. We serve others when we help meet their physical needs. We serve others when we teach them or offer guidance. We serve others when we feed them, care for them medically, or provide them with comfort. Servanthood shows up in big acts of kindness such as these, but it also shows up in small ways with the people who are the closest to us.

I serve my children, for example, when I take extra time to help them with a homework problem. I serve my wife when I offer to cook dinner, do the dishes, fix the car, build a set of bookshelves, or simply lay down my desires for what is in her best interests. Servanthood manifests itself in an almost endless number of ways. Therefore, a chapter that focuses on what a servant does could be longer than anyone would care to read. Suffice it to say that servanthood shows up in virtually every action of our lives.

Because servanthood manifests itself so broadly, the last thing I want to suggest is that there are just one or two ways we primarily serve Jesus. Being a servant applies to everything we do. Yet I want to argue in this chapter that as servants, we must always be faithful to one priority—sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the people God puts in our lives. 

Too often, Christians busy themselves with silly debates over the best way to help people experience the love of God. Some say we should show the love of Christ by our actions, being cautious not to offend others with our words. However, if we don’t connect the dots between our actions and God’s love, the result will be people with nothing more than fuzzy misunderstandings about God’s love and grace.

On the other hand, others say we shouldn’t focus on showing our love for others but on preaching Jesus to them. However, this approach often doesn’t accomplish what we seek because the message doesn’t line up with the actions of the messenger. Advocates of these two differing approaches are often deeply critical of each other.

Notice the either/or nature of the debate. For both sides, it is either their approach or the other approach. Might we ask, however, why is it an either/or? Or, to press the point harder, shouldn’t we think of acts of service and evangelism in a both/and way?

I firmly believe the both/and approach is the better way. Kind service and clear gospel proclamation are not antithetical to each other. Even more, they are both mandated to us by Christ Himself. So then, the doing of servanthood, which has almost limitless application, should be accompanied by clear gospel sharing. But the opposite is also true: our gospel sharing should be accompanied by clear demonstrations of servanthood. While some want to debate approaches, I want to join the two. We must serve others with our actions, and we must also share Jesus with them. Next I will highlight a few simple points about how to share Jesus as we serve.

Proclaiming and Serving Together

First Corinthians emphasizes the point I made above. In 1 Corinthians 2:1–2, Paul writes, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul here reminds the Corinthians of what matters most in his ministry to them. Above all else, he wants to know that they believe in Jesus who was crucified for them. For those who think all we really need to do is preach the gospel and forget about showing love through our actions, these verses may seem to make their point. After all, Paul does seem to say that preaching Jesus is what matters most. Paul wasn’t concerned with impressive arguments or eloquent wisdom. Instead, he just preached Jesus.

However, this view ignores the rest of what Paul said in his two letters to the Corinthians, as well as everything He did for them when he visited them. The full picture of Paul’s ministry makes clear that he cared for them in every possible way. Paul gave himself to them and served as a faithful shepherd. In 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, he describes the way he became a servant to all people for the sake of the gospel.

Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.

We shouldn’t take Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:2 as an indication that all we need to do is share the gospel. Such a view fails to capture Paul’s full teaching and example. At the same time, Paul upholds gospel proclamation as the ultimate goal of our service to others. In Paul’s teaching and example, therefore, we have both/and on display. Yes, he cared for the Corinthians and served them. He did this so that he could share the love of Jesus with them. It was not either/or for Paul, and it shouldn’t be for us either.

Through kindness and service, we gain an audience with people who might not otherwise listen to the gospel. Once we have an audience, we can unpack the gospel. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In Acts 4:12, Peter told the Jewish leaders that there “is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” Paul also wrote in Romans 5:6, 8 that “while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” With passages such as these, the gospel should always be on our lips around the people we serve. We demonstrate Jesus’s love with our actions, but we also communicate it with the gospel.

Why Servants Proclaim the Gospel

Why should we be intentional about sharing the gospel while we serve people? As students of the Scriptures, we know that salvation cannot be achieved through our effort or spiritual labor. In Galatians 2:21, for example, Paul writes, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Notice that if a person could earn merit before God through their own effort, then Christ died for no reason. Yet the Father would not have had His Son die without a purpose. Paul’s point is that Jesus’s death is necessary for our salvation. In Romans 4:4, Paul tells us that even if we did work for our salvation, it would count against us, not for us. Clearly, God saves not through our effort but through His saving grace found in the death of His Son. Nonetheless, most people believe that salvation is up to them. We cannot assume they understand grace; it must be made clear to them.

Furthermore, we cannot take for granted that people understand what motivates our kind service to them. While Christian love is unique and powerful, it is not uncommon for people to encounter nice people who are caring toward them. Unless we tell them about God’s saving love, they may fail to understand it. Paul reminds us of the need for clear gospel communication in Romans 10. He says:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. (vv. 13–17)

Anyone who calls on Christ will be saved. Paul assures us of this in verse 13. But Paul then asks an all-too-critical set of questions. How is it possible for them to call on Him when they haven’t believed unless someone comes to them with the gospel? In short, it’s impossible. Paul’s point is that we have to be the conduit through which Jesus is preached to others. It is essential that we share the gospel as we serve the people God puts in our lives.

Paul concludes, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” When we couple the gospel with our kind acts of service, we both show and speak the love of Jesus into others’ lives. We cannot simply assume they understand the gospel. We have to be explicit about sharing it.

James K. Dew Jr. is president and professor of philosophy at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The author or editor of several books, he served for many years as a senior pastor and in various pastoral leadership roles.

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