Do You Want To Become Well?

How would you answer if Jesus asked, “Do you want to become well?”

For most, if not all, of us, I think our first instinctive response would be something like, “Yes! Of course I want to be well.” But let’s ponder this a little more. The man Jesus addressed this question to in John 5 “had been disabled for 38 years” (5:5, NET). We don’t know how old he was, but I’m guessing that was at least half his life. Healing would have been a major change to his status-quo. I don’t have experience being physically disabled, but the idea that healing involves a huge change is something I talked about years ago with my first counselor. I was there to overcome and manage anxiety and depression, but the idea of living without those things made me anxious. They’d been such a big part of me for so long that I didn’t know who I’d be without them. My answer to, “Do you want to be made well?” was “I think so?”

What if the question was specifically about spiritual healing? As Chris Tiegreen says in 365 Pocket Devotions, “Jesus knows that sometimes, as much as we think we want to change, we’re comfortable with the status quo. We say we want to be delivered of our sins, but we still look for ways to be tempted by them. … we must be prepared for radical change if we want a real encounter with him” (p. 160). Being healed by Jesus involves a significant change in our lives. The analogy C.S. Lewis uses is that we’re not a field that Jesus needs to mow to get the overgrown grass under control; we’re one that needs to be plowed up and re-sown to produce wheat. Truly becoming well involves a radical, whole-life alteration of our status quo.

We need to be healed

Jesus preached repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world. This message wasn’t received well by those who thought they didn’t need to repent. In fact, those people judged Jesus for spending time “with tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 9:11, WEB). That attitude didn’t impress Jesus, though. He wasn’t there just to focus on people who thought they didn’t need Him. He came to heal people.

Behold, they brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a bed. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you.”

Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man blasphemes.”

Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins—” (then he said to the paralytic), “Get up, and take up your mat, and go to your house.”

He arose and departed to his house.

Matthew 9:2-7, WEB

With this miracle, Jesus dramatically changed a man’s life. He proved He could heal both physically and spiritually, and He taught that His power to heal physically pointed to His power to heal spiritually. Right after this healing, Jesus called Matthew (a tax collector) to follow Him, then overheard the Pharisees asking His disciples why their rabbi would associate with tax collectors and sinners.

When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Matthew 9:12-13, WEB

When Jesus looks at sinners (a group we’re all part of), He sees people who need healing. When we resist repentance or don’t recognize our need for His forgiveness, it’s as crazy as running away from someone who could stop you from having a heart attack or falling prey to a nasty virus.

Jesus’s healing is able to save us

Jesus is willing to heal and cleanse us. He invites all of us to come to Him, repent, ask for His help, and receive forgiveness and renewed spiritual health. Sometimes (and for a whole host of reasons) we may not receive the physical healings we ask for, but He always grants forgiveness to repentant sinners. Some sins may still have consequences (e.g. when God forgives someone for breaking “thou shalt not steal” it may not stop them from facing fines or prison time) but when Jesus heals us spiritually, He ensures that those consequences will not include us dying for our own sins.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:24-25, NET

Even when God disciplines us, it’s for the purpose of healing (Heb. 12:11-13). We should also work alongside God to “be healthy in the faith” (Tit. 1:13, NET). In that verse from Titus, the word for “healthy” is the same word used in Luke’s version of “Those who are well don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do” (Luke 5:31, NET). In Greek, it’s hugiainō, which means “to be sound, to be well, to be in good health” (Thayer’s dictionary entry G5198). Interestingly, this word is also used of “sound doctrine/words” (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1). In order to stay sound and healthy after we’re initially healed, we need to keep doing things related to good spiritual health. That includes taking in the “sound words” of God and asking Jesus for continued healing/forgiveness as we make mistakes.

Accepting Jesus’s offer of healing means a radical change in our lives. It means admitting we need healing and wanting it enough to ask for forgiveness and let Him heal us. It means putting off the “old man” (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) and following Jesus, being remade in His image. It means learning from God’s correction and discipline as we hold on to sound, healthy doctrine and do our best to follow Him. And it means joy, peace, and spiritual health like we can’t find anywhere else. There’s so much to look forward to about the changes that happen as Jesus continues to work with, heal, and befriend us.

So, do you want to become well?

Holding on to Our Joy in the Lord

We don’t often give the minor prophets much attention, beyond telling the story of Jonah or studying some sections if you’re curious about future and fulfilled prophecies. I find, though, that when I do study them or run across a verse from one in word searches that their messages are often surprisingly relevant for today. The section of a minor prophet’s book to most recently catch my eye is a verse at the end of Habakkuk.

The short book of Habakkuk records an exchange between the prophet and God, then ends with a psalm/prayer. At the beginning, Habakkuk looked at the nation around him and cried out to the Lord about how “the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out” (Hab. 1:4, NET). He wants God to intervene and make things right, as so many of us want today. However, when God answers it is not the way Habakkuk hoped or expected. God says He’s going to “empower the Babylonians” (Hab. 1:6) to take over Israel.

Habakkuk is so horrified that he argues with God (Hab. 1:12-2:1). God is not obligated to explain Himself to people, yet in this case he does. He talks about how people of integrity ought to live (“the righteous will live by his faith,” see Hab 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), and contrasts how He relates to those people with what awaits the wicked. He proclaims, “Woe!” to those who’ve rejected Him and promises that “recognition of the Lord’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth” (Hab. 2:14, NET). It’s quite a lengthy response (Hab. 2:2-20), and Habakkuk seems satisfied with it since the next part of the book is a prayer, likely set to music, praising God. That’s where we’ll focus today.

Receiving Good and Evil from the Lord

Earlier, Habakkuk protested the Lord’s plan to punish His people, but now after talking with God the prophet’s perspective changed. In the prayer recorded at the end of this short book, there’s an odd mix of talking about destruction and salvation. People today often struggle to reconcile the idea of a God that would allow suffering with a God that is salvation, deliverance, and love. Habakkuk doesn’t seem to have that trouble.

Yahweh, I have heard of your fame.
I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh.
Renew your work in the middle of the years.
In the middle of the years make it known.
In wrath, you remember mercy. …

Plague went before him,
and pestilence followed his feet.
He stood, and shook the earth.
He looked, and made the nations tremble. …

You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the land of wickedness.
You stripped them head to foot. Selah.

Habakkuk 3:2, 5-6, 13, WEB

This reminds me of a question Job asked his wife: “Should we not receive what is good from God and not also receive what is evil?” (Job 2:10, NET). If we believe God is sovereign and that He is responsible for all the good things that happen in our lives, then we ought to trust Him through the bad things as well. There could be something going on that we don’t know about, such as Job suffering as part of God showing that one man’s faith, tested by fire, could make a cosmic difference. Or maybe God is punishing an unfaithful nation and we get caught up in that even though we’re faithful, as happened here with Habakkuk. Or maybe He’s allowing suffering in order to test, refine, and strengthen us (which is the context that the New Testament writers usually mean when they talk about God testing or trying us. See, for example, 1 Pet. 1:6-8; 4:12-13). Whatever the reason for the suffering, the message Habakkuk holds onto is that God is still worthy of trust. He has a plan. He will take salvation action. The timing for that might not make sense to us (yet), but that does not cancel-out the fact that we can have faith in the Lord’s plan and His goodness.

Holding on to Joy

At the end of the prayer, Habakkuk voices some very understandable nervousness. He talks of trembling, knowing that he “must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming of the people who will invade us” (Hab. 3:17, WEB). He has talked with God about what will happen in the future, accepted the Lord’s response, and decided to trust. He is still nervous, but then he makes a very powerful statement of radical faith.

For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish,
nor fruit be in the vines;
the labor of the olive fails,
the fields yield no food;
the flocks are cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls:
yet I will rejoice in Yahweh.
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength.
He makes my feet like deer’s feet,
and enables me to go in high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19, WEB

Even if the food supply collapses and the country is overrun by invaders, Habakkuk intends to rejoice. He is not rejoicing because those bad things happen, but because they have no power to take away the true cause of Habakkuk’s joy. God is sovereign! He is salvation and strength! That’s not going to change, and holding on to that truth lets us rejoice in Him and claim Him as our savior. No matter what comes, we can imitate Habakkuk’s faith and boldly say, “I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

What Is Real?

I’ve been thinking about reality lately, for several reason. I recently started a new job where I’m tutoring younger kids than I’ve worked with before, and one of the things taught alongside reading skills is how to identify clues that let you know whether a story is realistic or fantasy. As a writer and avid reader, though, I know how easy it can be to blur those lines. You might do tons of research to write a very accurate, realistic setting (for example) then throw a dragon or werewolves into the story. Also, people can define “realistic” differently. A flood covering the world or a dead man coming back to life seem like fantasy to many, but for Christians the Bible is realistic and it’s non-fiction.

The question, “What’s really going on here?” is one that the Bible asks and answers, mostly indirectly. Satan started out his attacks on both Eve and Jesus by questioning the nature of reality. To Eve, he said, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” ( Gen. 3:1, WEB, emphasis added). To Jesus, he called the reality of who He is into question by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3, 6, WEB, emphasis added). In sharp contrast to the adversary’s scheming and questioning, God is very open with us about the nature of reality. He tells us how things are, what will happen in the future, what the consequences are for different choices, and which things will endure forever so we know where to put our focus and energy. In other words, God shares truth with us about what is real.

The Best Place to Find Real Truth

Truth, and along with it the notion of an objective reality, has largely been rejected by modern society. Faced with the realization that there are an infinite number of perspectives and ideas, the world has made the terrible decision to try and act as if they were all equally valuable no matter how contradictory or crazy they seem. We can’t even agree on a “fact” anymore. There’s no need for such confusion, though. There is such a thing as reality and truth and the Bible, along with the holy spirit, is the key to figuring out what that is.

This notion doesn’t sit well with many people. Even some believers might balk at the idea at times. We all want so badly to be right. We want our take on things to be real. We’ve been told for years to follow our hearts and trust ourselves. And yet, “the human mind is more deceitful than anything else” (Jer. 17:9, NET). The inside of our own heads is a terrible place to look for truth. According to psychological studies, we can’t even trust that our own memories are accurate. Spiritually speaking, we might even be dead, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” without realizing it! (Rev. 3:1, 17, NET). If we want to know how things really are and what truth is, we need to look to God.

Focusing on What is Most Important

I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time in 1 Corinthians 2 over the past few months (both in blog posts and for the double-minded scripture writing theme), and we’re back here again today. In this section of scripture, Paul talks about the difference between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom, showing us how God transforms our spirits, minds, and hearts with His Spirit. Much like the spirit (G4151, pneuma, spirit, soul, life, breath) inside us understands us better than we understand other people, the Spirit in God knows “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-11).

But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. … Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. … “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have Christ’s mind.

1 Corinthians 2:14, 16, 18, WEB

We can only understand the Truth behind perceived reality through God’s spirit in us. Specifically, what we see physically only hints at what is the most real. This creation will pass away, replaced by a new, more enduring creation. The battles we fight today are not as they appear; they are really “against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, WEB). Even the Law possesses only “a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself” (Heb. 10:1, NET)–“The reality is Christ!” (Col. 2:17, NET).

The physical seems very real, and in many ways it is. We’re not living in a fake world, but one that God created and gave to us. And yet, when we start to perceive things with the mind of Christ it changes how we look at reality. We start to understand why it makes sense for Jesus to tell us we shouldn’t worry about things like food and clothing and should instead focus on seeking “God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:25-34). It’s not the things we can see and touch that are most important, but the spiritual things which God invites us to take part of.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18, NET

Making Time for Our Real Lives With God

The Bible never tells us that this physical life doesn’t matter or that God doesn’t care about how we choose to live these lives. God’s word does, however, tell us the physical matters less than the spiritual. We must not let temporary things distract us from the true riches that can be found eternally with God.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21, NET

Investing in the spiritual ensures that our hearts are in the right place (i.e. with God) and that the things we spend our time on are real, true, and lasting. In today’s world, there are many possible distractions. We might be distracted worrying about bad news or the threat of future troubles. We might loose ourselves in entertainment like movies, books, and video games (something I personally find very tempting). Or we could just be so busy with our daily lives that we push spending time on the spiritual off until later. But we need to commit ourselves to prioritizing our relationship with God and investing in what will really, truly last beyond this physical life.

Featured image by Anggie from Lightstock

Grain, Vines, and Olives: Becoming Part of God’s Fruitful People

The Bible uses a lot of agricultural imagery. You’re probably most familiar with this from Jesus’s parables about sowers and fields, or His statement “I am the vine.” These sorts of analogies are rooted both in the culture of Jesus’s day and in the Old Testament writings, and they focus on three types of plants: grain, vines, and olive trees. Those plants are also the three main agricultural products of Palestinian farming: “grain, new wine, and oil” (Theological Wordbook: Old Testament, entry 1040a). These three things figured prominently in scripture, mostly in tithes and offerings (Lev. 23:13; Deut. 14:23; 18:4; 2 Chr. 31:5; Neh. 10:39; 13-12) and promised blessings (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 31:12; Hos. 2:8, 22; Joel 2:19, 24).

Grain, vines, and olive trees were a key part of culture in Bible times and they’re used in teachings that are a key part of our faith. The study I’m sharing today started out with the question, “How can we bear fruit for God?” and the more I looked into it the more fascinated I became with the way God and the writers He inspired use these three plants to tell us about His plan, kingdom, and relationship with people. At first, I planned to divide this up into three posts (one for each type of plant), but the way the Bible talks about them is so intertwined I don’t think that would be useful. That means today’s post is a little on the long side, but I hope you’ll find this study as interesting as I do 🙂

A Brief History of God’s Vineyard

Obviously, grain, vines, and olives are useful for physical things. They were key to food production, they were used extensively for tithes and offerings, and olive wood played an important role in construction. In addition to these uses (and perhaps because these plants were so well-known and widely used), the Bible also talks about metaphors and spiritual parallels for us using these three types of plants and their produce. Hosea offers a great example of this.

Near the beginning of Hosea’s book, God brings a complaint against Israel, His unfaithful wife who “has refused to acknowledge that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil” (2:8, NET). God’s punishment for her idolatry was to “take back my grain … and my new wine,” turning the cultivated land for food production into an “uncultivated thicket” (2:12, 15). That’s not the end of the story, though.

I will commit myself to you in faithfulness;
then you will acknowledge the Lord.
“At that time, I will willingly respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the sky,
and the sky will respond to the ground;
then the ground will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil;
and they will respond to ‘God Plants’ (Jezreel)!
Then I will plant her as my own in the land.

Hosea 2:20-23, NET

When a new covenant is restored with God’s people Israel, the agricultural blessings return. God’s people are compared to “a fertile vine that yielded fruit” (Hos. 10:1, NET). In this passage, Israel is also counseled to plow up the ground of their lives and bear new crop–righteousness and love rather than wickedness and injustice (10:11-13). Here in Hosea, we see the fruit of grain, grape, and olive plants used to speak of blessings, punishment, and (most relevant to today’s topic) the state of human hearts. Are we planted by God, or growing wild? Are we sowing with a good harvest in mind, or investing in bearing bad fruit?

Cultivating a Faithful People

In the Old Testament, Israel is often compared to a vine. Typically, it’s in a negative context. Israel was a vine that betrayed God and so He withdrew His protection from them (Psalm 80:8-16). It was a vineyard where the grapes went sour, rotten, and foul (Is. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21). It was a fruitful vine that used its fruit to worship a false god (Hos. 10:1). The consequences of all this unfaithfulness was to be punished, burned like a dried-out vine cut away from a plant (Ezk. 15:1-7; 19:10-14). There is, however, a promise of restoration. The Lord will protect and water His vineyard, and Israel will blossom and thrive (Is. 27:1-6; Hos. 14:4-8).

The way the prophets talked about Israel as a vine would have been very familiar to the Jewish people of Jesus’s day. When He taught parables which compared the kingdom of God to a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16; 21:33-46), His listeners would have connected it to what they heard read in the temple about Israel as God’s vineyard. And when Jesus spoke of a vineyard where the people tending it betrayed the owner, the “chief priests and the Pharisees … realized that he was speaking about them” when Jesus said, “for this reason I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce it’s fruit” (Matt. 21:43-46, NET).

Jesus–as the Word who delivered God’s message to the prophets–knew exactly what He was doing when He compared the kingdom of God to a vineyard, showed that the Lord is the only one with the right to decide how that vineyard is managed, and warned that the unfaithful would not be allowed to grow in the kingdom/vineyard forever (Matt. 15:12-13). Much like the parables where Jesus compares His people and people’s reactions to His word to grain (Matt. 13:18-30), the way Jesus talks about vines shows that the kingdom’s inhabitants are not a group which automatically includes any one type of people based on their background. He’s specifically cultivating a field/vineyard full of faithful people, regardless of where they started out “growing.”

All Nations Grafted In

We’ll come back to the idea of fruitfulness, but this last point about a change in the composition of the field/vineyard also connects to an olive tree analogy that Paul uses in Romans. Like vines and grain, olives figure prominently in scripture. Olive oil was used to anoint kings and priests, and as part of the offerings. Olive wood was used to build sukkas (Neh. 8:15) and in the temple construction (1 Kings 6:23, 31-33). Someone who trusts “in God’s loyal love” is “like a flourishing olive tree” (Ps. 52:8, NET). Much like the vine imagery, Israel was also called a once fruitful and “thriving olive tree” that became “good for nothing” through unfaithfulness and was set on fire (Jer. 11:16, NET).

It’s with that background that Paul uses olive trees imagery to show his gentile readers how they relate to the Jews (which represented one tribe of Israel, Judah, though Paul uses them to stand-in for all of physical Israel). Even in the Old Testament, the name “Israel” referred to both a physical nation and to a smaller group of spiritual, faithful believers (Rom. 11:1-4). A similar thing is happening today, only now this faithful remnant doesn’t just include descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It includes those who were once outside Israel as well and who’ve responded to God’s call (Rom. 11:5-16).

To illustrate this, Paul compares Israel to a cultivated olive tree and the Gentiles (ethnos in Greek; tribes, peoples, nations) to a wild olive tree. Both groups are olives–people made in the image of God–but one has a longer history of being chosen, tended, and cultivated by God for a specific purpose. Now, the Master Gardener is expanding His cultivation project. He’s pruning out those who do not believe and grafting in those who have faith. Which olive tree you came from doesn’t matter; only the state of your heart (Rom. 11:17-24). In other words, God is still working in the same vineyard/field/orchard that He has always had, cultivating a kingdom people, but He is bringing new vines and branches in and grafting them all onto one Root.

How to Bear Fruit for God

Jesus is the holy root which makes the branches grafted into Him holy (Is. 11:1-10; 53:1-5; Rom. 11:16; 15:8-13; Eph. 3:16-19; Col. 2:6-7; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). Remember all those verses about Israel as an unfaithful, fruitless vineyard and the prophecy about future growth? Jesus is how that prophecy is fulfilled.

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.”

John 15:1-8, NET

See how this echoes so many of the prophecies we’ve looked at? Jesus reveals that He is the one we need to have a relationship with in order to be fruitful. Without Him, we wither away like ancient Israel so often did as they strayed into unbelief. The emphasis on being rooted also echoes other prophresies that talk of God’s people being rooted (Is. 27:6; 37:31-21; Jer. 17:7-8). The closer we are to God, the more firmly we’re rooted and the more we thrive. And the more we study what the whole Bible says about the way God’s people are like grain, vines, and olives the better we understand what Jesus is teaching us in passages like this one where He says, “I am the vine.”

God is looking for fruit from the people growing in His vineyard. He exercises patience, encouraging us to grow, but if we refuse to keep abiding in Him, He won’t force us to stay and bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9). We can’t grow and fruit without Him (1 Cor. 3:6-9), but we are also active participants in this fruitfulness and we are free to disconnect from the root and be unfruitful if we choose (as so many Jewish people of Jesus’s day chose to do when they rejected Him as the Messiah). When we choose to abide in Jesus, though, we will abound in the fruits of His spirit (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:8-11; 2 Pet. 1:5-8). In His grace, goodness, and love, God has opened the way through Jesus’s sacrifice for all people everywhere to become part of His kingdom-garden. Let’s stay close to Him, rooted with faith and trusting Him to supply all we need to grow and thrive and bear fruit that glorifies our Father.

Featured image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Like An Anchor Study Guide: The Beatitudes available for preorder and ARC

I’m so very excited to announce that the first book in my Like An Anchor Study Guide series is available for preorder. The Beatitudes releases on June 22nd, and you can order an ebook copy now. If you’d rather have a print copy, then you’ll need to wait until June 22nd to order it (for some reason I can’t set up a preorder option for print books).

This book has been a labor of love for several months now and I’m so happy I can finally share it with you all. If you read my blog series on The Beatitudes that started back in September of last year, then you’ve already seen the first draft of this book. The Study Guide version expands on those posts in each chapter and includes discussion/journaling prompts. The book also has a brand new introduction and conclusion, as well as scripture lists with each chapter to provide a starting place to continue studying each Beatitude on your own. Here’s the official description:

It’s safe to say most Christians are familiar with the Beatitudes. Yet even these short, well-known “Blessed are …” phrases contain a treasure-trove of Biblical truth that can deepen our faith and our understanding of the gospel. In this study guide, you’ll find chapters that dive deep into the historic and Biblical context for each beatitude, questions to use as journaling prompts or book club guides, and a wealth of scripture references to support your personal study of God’s word.

As an anchor keeps a ship from drifting with the changing waters, so does a defining belief in God help us ride the waves of life. In this study guide series, we cast our anchors deep into God’s word to seek stability and truth in Him.

ARC Information

In preparation for this books release, I’m looking for volunteers who would be willing to read and review this book before the release. I’d email you a free, PDF copy of this book and ask that you post reviews online by the end of June. If you are interested in this opportunity, please fill out this form:

ARC Request Form for The Beatitudes (now closed)

Please note that I will be closing this form on June 8th, two weeks before the release date, so if you’re interested please apply before then. Ideally, I’m looking for people who could post a review of this book to Goodreads before or shortly after the release date and to Amazon shortly after the release date. Sharing the review on a personal blog or promoting the book on social media is also much appreciated, but not required.

Preorder Information

If you’re not interested in reviewing and promoting this book but you’d still like to read it, you can preorder the book through the Amazon Kindle Store. The paperback will be available for order on June 22nd (which is also when the Kindle copy will be automatically delivered if you preorder the book).

Click here to Preorder The Beatitudes

Hearts of Shalom: Nothing Missing, Nothing Broken

I had a completely different post planned for today, but then I started looking more closely at 2 Chronicles 16:9 on Wednesday (it’s Day 19 of the Double-Minded scripture writing list that I brought up in last week’s post) and I just had to keep studying it. Here’s that verse in a few different translations to start us out:

“For Yahweh’s eyes run back and forth throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (WEB)

“Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him.” (NET)

“For the eyes of Adonai move here and there throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those who are wholehearted toward him.” (CJB)

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (NIV)

2 Chronicles 16:9

I think it’s fascinating to realize God is actively looking to be strong in and on behalf of certain people. The description of those people is what I want to focus on today. Even though I’ve looked up the Hebrew words used here before I hadn’t really thought that deeply about what they mean, and I’ve found studying deeper into this topic of “perfect” hearts both fascinating and encouraging.

A short Hebrew study

As you can see, the description of the people who catch God’s eye is translated in several different ways–“them whose heart is perfect,” “those who are devoted to him,” “those who are wholehearted toward him,” and “fully committed to him” (and there are even more in other translations). In Hebrew, the word “heart” is leb or lebab, and it is “the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1071a). While leb can just mean the muscle that pumps blood through your body, in a context like this it means your inner person, mind, emotions, will, understanding, and soul (BDB lexicon, H3824). It’s because this word encompasses so much of our minds, wills, and natures that I think “whole-hearted” is the opposite of “double-minded.”

Though “heart” is a fascinating study, it’s the “wholeness” part that caught my eye this time. The word that’s behind the translators’ decision to use words like “whole,” “perfect,” “devoted,” and “committed” is shalem (H8003). If that looks a lot like shalom (the Hebrew word for peace, H7965), it should. They are both part of the same word family derived from the root sh-l-m (TWOT, 2401). Shalom is used most often (over 250 times); shalem is an adjective form used 26 times.

Of all those times that shalom is used in the Bible, it only means “absense of strife” about 50-60 times (TWOT, 2401a). Far more often, it means something that a single English word like “peace” is woefully inadequate to express. Trying to fix this problem, the King James Version used about 30 different words in the Old Testament to translate shalom.

The root meaning of the verb shālem better expresses the true concept of shālôm. Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, are closer to the meaning. Implicit in shālôm is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfilment in one’s undertakings.

TWOT by Laird R. Hariss, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, entry 2401

My favorite short version of a definition for shalom is one I’ve heard used by a Messianic rabbi. Shalom is wholeness–nothing missing, nothing broken. That’s the kind of heart that God creates in us (filling in the missing things and healing the brokenness) and which He is looking for as His eyes roam the earth.

Hearts of shalom

All the times when shalem is paired with “heart” are found in discussions of Israel’s kings. As you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles (and one verse in Isaiah), you’ll see phrases like “his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 15:3, WEB) or sometimes “the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (2 Chron. 15:17, WEB). Once, when talking about Amaziah, there’s even the curious phrase, “He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, but not with a perfect heart” (2 Chr. 25:2, WEB). Apparently, you can “do what’s right” without actually being wholehearted (which makes sense when we think of the hypocrisy that the Jesus called-out the Pharisees on because they “say and don’t do“).

I find all this fascinating. First, I’m puzzled why a shalem heart is only used in very specific contexts. It’s used by a king talking to the next king (1 Chr. 28:9), the people in relation to a king (1 Chr. 12:38), a king instructing the people (1 Kings 8:55, 61; 2 Chr. 19:9), those keeping records about kings, or a prophet speaking to a king, which is where we started this post. Even David, the man after God’s own heart who was held up as the exemplar of what it meant to be a king with a perfect heart, doesn’t pair shalem or shalom with leb in his psalms (at least not in the same verse, see Psalm 4:4, 8 and 37:4, 11, 31, 37).

Still, though the use of this phrase is limited to one particular section of the Bible, we can see the benefits of having a whole, perfect, and complete heart. There’s great value in cultivating a relationship with God where nothing’s missing or broken. He wants that from kings serving Him, and Revelation tells us that God intends for us to become kings and priests (or in some translations a kingdom of priests; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We might not be ruling monarchs of ancient Israel, but God still wants us to have hearts like David’s.

Characteristics of David’s heart

Though David doesn’t link hearts and peace directly, he does write extensively about the heart’s relationship with God. Since we know he had a shalem heart, reading his writing on hearts can help us develop hearts like this as well. According to the psalms, a heart like David’s is …

That’s quite a list. And this wasn’t even a super in-depth study (I ran out of time to study this topic any more before today’s post)–just a search on MySword Bible app for psalms attributed to David that mention “heart.” Still, it gives us a fantastic starting point for developing hearts that are whole, perfect, and complete in their relation to God. I also find it really encouraging that it’s David who’s held up as an example for us to follow. God doesn’t need to start with perfect people in order for us to have whole hearts with “nothing missing, nothing broken.” David was far from perfect–he even killed the husband of the woman he committed adultery with–and yet God still loved Him and kept working with him after David repented and asked for a clean heart.

If God didn’t give up on David, then I know He’s not going to give up on me. And He’s not going to give up on you. We just need to make sure we don’t give up on ourselves either and keep coming back to God, cultivating a heart that’s wholly focused on Him. Then, God will make sure to give us hearts full of shalom.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13, WEB

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