Combating Doubt with Faith, Hope, and Love

I’ve been thinking about the topic of “double-minded” again. The phrase only appears two or three times in the Bible (depending on the translation), but I wrote a whole post on it a few months ago and this month it’s the topic for my church’s scripture writing group (click here to download a copy for yourself). As I write out these scriptures each day, other scriptures keep coming to mind related to how we can avoid being double-minded and instead be whole-hearted for God.

Being able to maintain a whole-hearted level of commitment is very important for us. We don’t want to be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind … a double-minded individual unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6, 8, NET). Doubt like that has no place in a faithful life. But saying we need to have faith without doubting and really living that way are two different things. What is it that can keep us from being tossed around like this by turmoil, questions, and fear?

Fixed on Jesus

The double-minded person is described as “tossed around” and “unstable.” You could say they are wavering between two ways of being and thinking: faith and doubt. So that means we need to find something unwavering to hold on to if we’re going to avoid being trapped in this sort of mindset.

we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

Jesus endured the cross without wavering, and He’s now sitting at God’s right hand advocating for us (Heb. 12:2; Rom. 8:34). He isn’t going to leave us on our own, and that gives us confidence. We can come to God the Father through Jesus at any time from anywhere with anything we need to talk about.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings

Hebrews 10:19-22, NET

Holding on to Jesus is the first step in combatting doubts and fears that would make us double-minded, unstable people. Faith is where our journeys as Christians start, and if we feel ourselves wavering then we need to go back to that foundation and focus on Jesus. He’s where our confidence to keep enduring comes from.

Anchored in Hope

Continuing to read in Hebrews 10, the author adds another layer to how we can hold fast to Jesus: “And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb. 10:23, NET). Being double-minded makes us wavering; hope in Jesus is something we can hold on to unwaveringly. For Christians, hope isn’t a nebulous possibility. It is a sure and certain thing.

so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:18-19, NET

We have faith in God, He proves Himself faithful, and that gives use a solid foundation for hope. If we can hold on to faith and hope, then we have an anchor to keep us from being tossed around like a wave on the sea. We have a way to combat double-mindedness as we keep moving forward in faith and hope.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

Philippians 3:13-15, NET

And the Greatest is Love

Faith and hope are commonly paired in scripture (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:5; Col. 1:23; 1 Thes. 1:3; Heb. 11:1; 1 Pet. 1:21). They’re also spoken of alongside love as something we ought to put on (1 Thes. 5:8). Indeed, Paul tells us “faith, hope, and love” are what endure and remain, and of the three “the greatest is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NET). It would make sense, then, that love would also play a vital role in keeping us whole-heartedly focused on God.

One of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest of all?”

Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, WEB

Loving God wholly–with all the focus of our hearts, souls, and minds–leaves no room for being double-minded. Being whole-hearted for our God, who “is love” helps us become love as well (1 John 3:10; 4:7-12; 5:2). That transformation toward being like God changes our minds as well as our actions.

The Spirit God gives us (a gift we commemorate tomorrow on Pentecost) is a spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Tim. 1:7, NKJV). Modern Bibles often translate sophonismos (G4995) as “self-control” or “self-discipline,” but it also means “soundness of mind.” The root words refer to someone who is “sane” or restored to their senses (Thayer’s dictionary, G4994 and G4998). If we want to avoid being double minded, we need to have faith in God, trust Him and hope in His word, and be filled with His spirit of love. That’s what will make our minds “single” as we follow Paul’s example of continuing to press on toward the wonderful future God promises us.

Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock

What Should We Do When the World’s Evil Makes Us Feel Sad, Angry, or Hopeless?

I don’t read most of the e-newsletters that show up in my email, but sometimes I do. Open Doors shares prayer requests and updates about persecuted Christians around the world, and Hope Outfitters partners with charities to donate all the money they make off clothing sales to a good cause. I’ll read their newsletters, and often when I do, I become angry and sad. When I read about Christians in India being denied food and medicine unless they renounce their faith or a little girl here in the U.S. whose parents started selling her for sex when she was 6 months old, I want someone do do something about it. People are trying to help–that’s part of what the newsletters talk about–but I want a more permanent solution. I want God to do something about it. The more I hear stories like this, better I understand why David wrote Psalms asking God to “break the teeth of the wicked” (Ps. 3:7, NET) and “pay them back for their evil deeds. Pay them back for what they do. Punish them” (Ps. 28:4, NET).

And yet, even though we have the Psalms as models for the range of emotions that godly people can feel and it is okay to take our anger to God in this way, we are also told not to give into that anger or be consumed by a desire for vengeance. Indeed, Jesus says, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NET). This command seems terribly counter-intuitive, especially when the things some people do are so clearly evil.

To be clear, loving our enemies does not mean we ought to “call evil good” or make darkness out to be light (Is. 5:20). God defines what is righteous and what is not, and it is not our place to excuse what He calls wicked. We must beware that our mercy doesn’t turn into a permissive tolerance of sin (1 Cor. 5:1-6). Yet we’re also not to become raging, unforgiving avengers or legalistic judges who take it upon themselves to condemn others. There’s a challenging balance to strike in this, and I think there are several things we can keep in mind to help with that.

God’s Fairness to All

We have certain ideas about fairness and justice that come from a mix of our cultures, our gut reactions, and our thoughts and experiences. Typically, those ideas don’t match up exactly with what God thinks of as right and just. We can see this in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, whom the landowner gave the same payment whether they’d worked an hour or the whole day (Matt. 20:1-16). The men complained because those who’d worked less were treated as equal to them, but the landowner did give them what he’d agreed and he had the right to pay people what he chose. Whether someone has been a Christian all their life or just a few months, God can give them the same reward while still being impartial and just.

Something similar happens in God’s dealings with the wicked. He is always just, but it doesn’t always look the way we want or expect. And because we are to become like God, Jesus tells us God’s perfect justice should inspire us to treat people the way that God does.

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:44-45, 48, NET

The Greek word here for “love” is agapao. We don’t have to see our enemies as close friends with whom we have a lot in common and a closed bond (which would have been expressed by the word phileo) but we do need to love everyone, including our enemies, with the same active goodwill and benevolence that God has as a key part of His being. When we struggle to understand why God doesn’t punish certain people right now or stop them before they could do bad things, we need to keep in mind that He is loving and patient as well as good and just (2 Pet. 3:9).

Image by Pearl via Lightstock

His Justice With Us

Whenever we’re tempted to grumble about the fact that God shows mercy and patience to certain people, it’s good to remember how He deals with us. Don’t you appreciate God’s patience with your sin? Aren’t you grateful that His idea of justice means showing you mercy and grace? Doesn’t it make you rejoice and praise Him to know that instead of giving us what we fairly deserved (i.e. death for our sins) Jesus died in your place? To quote Chris Tiegreen, “we who have received a clean slate from our Savior can have no complaints against our God of justice. Justice once directed at us was poured out on Another, so we can hardly insist that others receive it” (365 Pocket Devotions, Day 128).

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.

Colossians 3:12-13, NET

When we receive mercy, God expects us to show mercy. It’s such a big issue that Jesus even says God will withhold forgiveness from us if we don’t forgive others (Matt. 18:23-35). As God’s people, we’re to put on things like mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience, remembering all the times we benefit because God treats us with mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience. The more we remember how much undeserved mercy we have received, the better we can wrap our minds around God’s choice to treat others with mercy as He patiently provides opportunities for them to repent (Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9).

True Justice is a Promise

Another thing we can keep in mind when we wonder what God’s going to do about evil (and why doesn’t He do it now!?) is His promise that there will be justice. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29, WEB) who claims vengeance as His own and promises “I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). It’s not our place to try to pay people back for what they’ve done (Prov. 24:29). We ought to care about justice, since it is a godly thing, but only God–who is the Lawgiver and has perfect perspective on human beings’ motives and actions–can administer justice in the way we’re talking about here.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:16-19, NET

There is a day coming “when God will judge the secrets of human hearts,” including our own (Rom. 2:16, NET). We ought to “sigh and cry” and “groan and lament” over the abominable and detestable things done in our world (Ezk 9:4, WEB & LEB). We’re also to pray “thy kingdom come,” and trust in God’s timing. His patience and mercy and love means that He wants to give as many people as possible time to repent. These character traits do not mean He has forgotten the injustices done on this earth or that He will not avenge those who’ve been wronged.

Take Your Thoughts Captive

As we ponder the things we ought to focus on instead of anger and vengeance or apathetic helplessness, we probably also realize this is a hard thing to do. Changing the way we think and taking responsibility for the way we feel isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s particularly doable with the help of the holy spirit. With God’s power working in us to wage war on a spiritual and mental level, we can even “take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, NET). Our thoughts often feel outside our control, but with God’s help we can choose what to think and how we react to what’s going on around us.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8, NET

This is where we want to keep our focus. It’s not that we ignore all the bad things or pretend the world is full of nothing but sunshine and goodness. Rather, we ought not to dwell on the evil as if that were all there is. Then, instead of feeling helplessness or rage when we read or hear about an evil deed we can think on the truth of God’s promised, perfect justice. We can look for respectable, commendable ways to help people in need. We can pray for those excellent, praiseworthy people who are doing things like standing faithfully in the face of persecution or fighting to end sex trafficking. We can keep bringing our thoughts into alignment with Christ’s mind over and over again, asking God to help us hold fast to Him and live with faith, hope, and love until His kingdom comes.

Featured image by WhoisliketheLord Studio via Lightstock

The Curious Case of the Introvert’s Function Stack

One of the things that makes Myers-Briggs® theory so nuanced and, I think, useful in certain settings is the function stacks it describes. This is also one of the more complicated aspects of this typology system. I’ve spent quite a bit of time since I first became interested in Myers-Briggs® personality types trying to understand function stacks and how to explain them to others. I think I did pretty well at that last one in “The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever,” but it’s still not entirely complete.

I recently had a commenter ask for more information about how functions work for introverts, and that made me think that it might be useful to have a whole post on this topic. If you’re not all that familiar with functions (also called mental “processes”), then you’ll probably want to start with my Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions. To briefly recap that post, if you’re looking at the letters for a person’s type, Sensing and Intuition are both Perceiving functions (or “learning processes”). Feeling and Thinking are both Judging functions (or “decision-making processes”). If someone is a P-type, then that means their Perceiving Function is extroverted. If someone is a J-type, then that means their Judging function (either F or T) is extroverted.

A Few Examples

Talking about how extroverted and introverted cognitive functions are determined by the J/P preference is enough to make your eyes glaze over, even if you know what’s going on there. Looking at some examples makes this idea much easier to see:

  • For an xNFP type, the “P” tells us their perceiving function (in this case N) is extroverted. Therefore, both INFPs and INFPs use Extroverted Intuition and Introverted Feeling (since whichever of the two middle letters is not extroverted is introverted).
  • The same thing happens for an xSTP type—their perceiving function (S) is extroverted and their judging function (T) is introverted. Both ISTPs an ESTPs use Extroverted Sensing and Introverted Thinking.
  • For an xSFJ type, the “J” tells us their judging function (in this case S) is extroverted. That means their perceiving (F) function is the introverted one. Therefore, both ISFJs and ESFJs use Extroverted Feeling and Introverted Sensing.
  • Similarly, an xNTJ type would use Extroverted Thinking and Introverted Intuition because their judging function (T) is extroverted and their perceiving function (N) is introverted.

Basically, the S or N preference tells us which Perceiving/Learning function a person uses most comfortably. The T or F preference tells us which Judging/Decision-making process someone prefers to use. And the J or P preference tells us which of those two functions (S/N or T/F) is extroverted. Once we know of of someone’s two favorite functions is extroverted, then we know the other one is introverted.

How an Introvert’s Functions Work

With that background, we can bring the Introvert/Extrovert preference into this discussion. The letter E or I in a personality type tells us which of those two functions is someone’s dominant function or “driver” process. Introverts, they prefer the introverted function (e.g. an ISFP prefers Introverted Feeling over their co-pilot Extroverted Sensing). Their dominant function is whichever of those first two functions is introverted. To return to the four types we looked at in the previous section:

  • an INFP leads with Introverted Feeling and an ISTP with Introverted Thinking (their Judging functions)
  • an ISFJ leads with Introverted Sensing and an INTJ with Introverted Intuition (their Perceiving functions)

The thing that makes an introvert’s function stack a little strange is that their dominant function does not match their J/P preference. Even though an INFP has “P” in their four-letter type, their favorite function is actually their judging function, Introverted Feeling. Similarly, even though an INTJ has “J” in their name, their favorite function is their perceiving Introverted Intuition.

In summary, the J/P preference tells us which function is extroverted, not which function is dominant. The E/I preference is what tells us which of a person’s top two functions is dominant.

What This Means For Introverts

So what does all this technical stuff mean, practically, for introverts? For one, if you’re taking a free online test inspired by Myers-Briggs® that there’s a good chance it won’t get your J/P preference right because many of those tests try to treat Judging-Perceiving as a dichotomy rather than as an indication of which cognitive function you prefer. A test that’s based on cognitive functions, like this one from Personality Hacker*, will give you a much better idea of what your best-fit type is.

  • *please note that the link to this test is an affiliate link. You won’t be charged to take the test, but if you choose to buy any of their products after taking it I’ll receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

The fact that an Introvert’s preferred function is concerned with the inner world also means that most of us have to use our co-pilot extroverted function quite a bit in order to function effectively in the outer world. The introverts who become pretty comfortable with this function might be mistaken for extroverts (just like extroverts who spend time developing their introverted side might be mistaken for introverts). Even introverts who know they are introverted are typically forced to spend time using their extroverted co-pilot because we use it to interact with other people and either learn new information (if we’re a P type) or make decisions (if we’re a J type).

An introvert’s function stack can also play a role in their personal growth. From what I’ve seen, this tends to happen one of two ways:

  1. an introvert will shy away from using their extroverted co-pilot process and instead spend time developing their dominant introverted function and their tertiary function (which is also introverted). That means working on their co-pilot process will be one of the best things they can focus on for personal growth (this is what Personality Hacker says is the case for most people).
  2. an introvert will be forced (or choose) to use their Extroverted co-pilot more than their dominant introverted function. That means getting comfortable with their introverted side and working to balance it with their extroverted function is one of the best things they can focus on for personal growth.

One of the things that I like about Myers-Briggs ® types is that it gives you a description of the strongest mental processes that you have at your disposal. If you’ve settled on INFJ as your best-fit type (for example), then that can help you figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are. It can also give you an idea where to focus on for personal growth. For example, if an INFJ wants to strengthen their ability to make decisions, then it’d help to focus on developing their Extroverted Feeling side. If they wanted to strengthen their ability to see things from other perspectives and make logical sense of incoming information, then they’d want to focus on balancing their introspective Intuitive and Thinking sides.

Has learning about function stacks (here and from other sources) helped you understand and use Myers-Briggs® types? What are your favorite examples or analogies to use when explaining function stacks to other people?

If you’d like to know more about function stacks and how they work for the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I’ve updated this second edition with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook, paperback, or hardcover by clicking this link.

Featured image by Woman1907 from Pixabay

Psalm 133: Unity Like Oil and Dew

Psalm 133 is a beautiful passage of scripture. It’s always been one that puzzles me, though. I like metaphor and poetic imagery, but I’m not sure what we’re supposed to learn from the analogy used in this psalm. It’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing here:

Look! How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers truly live in unity.
It is like fine oil poured on the head,
which flows down the beard—
Aaron’s beard,
and then flows down his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which flows down upon the hills of Zion.
Indeed, that is where the Lord has decreed
a blessing will be available—eternal life.

Psalm 133:1-3, NET

The dew and oil analogies are linked by the word “flow.” There is something about unity among brothers that is like the way anointing oil flowed over a priest or dew flows down a mountain. I spent the past week studying this, and here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about this psalm in the comments!

Oil

The anointing that this psalm speaks of is recorded in Leviticus 8 and Exodus 29, though only the Leviticus passage records the oil being poured rather than just sprinkled (Ex. 29:1, 4, 21; Lev. 8:1-2, 20).

Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. … He then poured some of the anointing oil on the head of Aaron and anointed him to consecrate him.

Leviticus 9:10, 12 NET

In this context, oil is used for consecration; to put something or someone “into the realm of God’s holy things” (NET footnote on Lev. 8:10). That’s what’s happening in the scene that David described when he was explaining true unity among brothers. The “brothers” in this psalm could refer siblings, of course, but in scripture “brothers” tends to be a phrase used to describe a group of people connected by belief in God (see, for example, Acts 2:29, 37; Rom 12:1; James 5:7-12). The familial unity we’re looking for here operates on a physical and a spiritual level.

Unity among physical and spiritual family members is connected to holiness and to priesthood. Indeed, Peter tells the New Testament church that God is building all of us up together “to be a holy priesthood” and that we are chosen as a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). God wants us to be holy, to be united, and to be part of His “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

Dew

When David talks about the “dew of Hermon,” geographically he’s referring to Mount Hermon located in “the distant north” relative to “the hills of Zion” (NET footnote on Ps 133:3). Typically, Mount Hermon is used in the Bible as a landmark (Deut. 3:8-9; Josh. 11:3, 17; 1 Chr. 5:23) and we don’t have much information about why David chose it as the mountain to mention in this Psalm. Given Mount Hermon’s location, it’s unlikely that dew which formed there would make it to Zion. This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle.

Thankfully for us, David gives us a clue how we’re supposed to interpret dew in this passage by saying the locations he mentions are “where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available.” Connecting dew (an important source of water for plants and animals, and by extension people) with blessing is fairly common in scripture (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:13; Zech. 8:12). Conversely, holding back dew was a punishment (2 Sam. 1:21; 1 Kings 17:1; Hag. 1:9-10).

Your dead will come back to life;
your corpses will rise up.
Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground!
For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew,
and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits.

Isaiah 26:19, NET

As we can see in this and the other scriptures I linked to, dew is connected with blessings and growth. God even promises to “be like the dew to Israel;” healing and helping them grow and thrive (Hos. 14:4-6, NET). Unity fits into all this as well, helping the blessings that God gives like dew to flow out to more and more people.

Blessings that Flow

The blessings that come from brothers living together in unity don’t just stay in one relationship, or one family, or even one church group. They flow and spread like consecrating oil and growth-enabling dew. Unity is a good, excellent, valuable (H2896, tob), pleasant, delightful, and sweet (H5273, na’iym). It’s something precious; something which we grow into.

to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:12-13, NET

We ought to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes. 3:12, NET. Also Phil. 1:9). Like the holiness of a priest ought to result in service to the congregation and the dew which waters the ground ought to result in growth, so ought the relationships between believers result in unity, peace, and love that grows and spreads.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

5 Self-Care Tips for Grad School

I’m getting close to the end of my second semester of grad school. It’s been a great opportunity to learn, to meet new people, to build skills, and to have fun. It’s also stressful. Course loads are different than in undergrad (which was almost 10 years ago for me). On top of that, you’re also teaching (or in my case tutoring), plus working other jobs, and right now you’re navigating all the Covid-19 stuff as well. Plus, there’s often other “life happens” sorts of things going on. By the end of the semester, people look half-zombie.

Everyone deals with stress, regardless of whether or not they’re in grad school, and self-care is something we all need to make time for. That “making time for” part can be particularly tricky, though, when you’re juggling multiple jobs, classes, research projects, and eventually a thesis. With that in mind, here are some of the self-care things that I’ve been doing during my first year of grad school. I hope others will find these tips helpful as well. Share any other tips you have in the comments!

1) Go for walks

This is one of the more time-consuming things on the list, but it’s also one of the ones that’s most helpful. A few times a week, I go walking for about half an hour. Not only does exercise help keep you physically healthy, it also gives you a short break from all the sitting and reading that’s so much a part of grad school. This ticks several boxes on the self-care list: exercise, giving your eyes a rest from studying, and giving your brain a chance to process everything you’ve been learning. You’ll likely find yourself more relaxed and better able to focus after taking a short walk.

2) Keep to some kind of a routine

Routines are a difficult thing to come by when your schedule is changing every semester and may even be different from one day to the next. Keeping something consistent can be a big help in making you feel like you have some control and stability in your life, which can help lower the anxiety that’s often such a big part of grad school. I’ve done this with my morning routine of prayer/Bible study, yoga, shower, and breakfast. You might find that a morning routine works for you, too, or maybe that it’s better to have a bedtime routine, or something that you do over a lunch break to help you re-center and focus.

3) Schedule a weekly reset

Resting one day out of the week has a long history in Christianity. Much of the world (even within churches) has moved away from a Sabbath, but there is still great value in taking God up on His offer of rest. Non-Christians can benefit from this principle as well by scheduling time every week for some more extensive self-care. Schedule something with a friend, do a mini retreat in your home, shut off your phone or email for a day. For me, I eat a nice meal Friday night (since Shabbat goes from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), take a relaxing bath, play a low-stress game or read, then spend Saturday fellowshipping with other believers. After a long week of work, study, and life it’s so nice to be able to spend one day at the end of the week relaxing and resetting before starting it all over again next week.

4) Eat and sleep

Food and sleep are basic human needs, yet for some reason they seem the easiest to forget or push to the side when you’re in school. Dinner? That’s a snack between work and class, then maybe I’ll eat something at 9:00 tonight when I get home. Sleep? is that the thing where you fall into bed after writing like a maniac and hope you pass-out until your alarm goes off? I see the undergrads I work with skipping this self-care, I see my classmates doing it, and I catch myself doing it as well. I’m not as consistent about practicing this self-care tip as I should be, but most of the time I manage to make myself eat 3 meals a day and get 7 hours of sleep (which is what I’ve figured out I need in order to stay healthy and awake). Some of the best things you can do to take care of yourself are to eat as healthy as you can, don’t skip meals, and figure out how much sleep you need then make sure you get it as consistently as possible.

5) Say “no” when you need to

It’s good to say “yes” to a lot of the opportunities that come your way in grad school. But it’s also helpful to know when you need to say “no” and give yourself permission to do that. You’re human, and you can’t be on every committee, go to every conference, or re-adjust your schedule to convenience everyone in your life. If you’re not sure you have time for something, it’s okay to tell someone you need to check your schedule and get back with them, and then say “yes” or “no” depending on what you can realistically fit into your life. It won’t do you any good to take on more projects than you can complete successfully, or to say “yes” to something that’s going to rob so much time from something essential (like eating and sleeping) that you end up getting sick.

Takeaways

Grad school is fun and crazy, and I’m still figuring it out, but I am getting better at making sure I practice the self-care I need in order to stay physically healthy and mentally alert. When I take care of my own needs, then I can be more fully present for the things that I want and need to do, and for the people I want to work with.

Are you thinking about going to grad school? Currently in grad school? Survived grad school and moved on to something new? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Everyone (whether you’ve been to university or not) share your favorite self-care tips in the comments!

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Jesus: The Mercy Seat and Atonement Sacrifice

I love how dynamic the Bible is. Read a verse you’ve studied dozens of times, and suddenly a slightly different translation or an idea you had last month snaps into clarity and you see a deeper, fuller layer of God’s truth. I like to think that’s the holy spirit working, aligning our thoughts and ideas more closely with God so we can understand the things given to us by God.

The verse to most recently strike me in this way was the NET translation of Romans 3:25. I quoted it in last week’s post. Here, Paul says of Jesus that “God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.” In the KJV, this was translated as “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Both translations are profound, but seeing that connection to the mercy seat (which is an accurate translation of G2435, hilasterion, and is also used in Heb. 9:5) made me think about the idea in this verse more deeply.

“Mercy seat” is one of those things in the New Testament that wouldn’t make any sense at all without context from the Old Testament. Reading either testament in isolation would mean you only get a partial picture of God’s story and plan. It’s all one book, and nowhere is that more visible than when looking at how key aspects of the Old Testament law and worship point straight to Jesus Christ.

Context for the Mercy Seat

The mercy seat was the top part of the ark of the covenant. It is the location where the incense and the blood of the yearly Yom Kippor (Day of Atonement) sacrifice were placed (Lev. 16:11-17) and the place that God’s presence appeared when He met with His people (Ex. 30:6; Num. 7:89). In the Old Testament, the NET uses the translation “atonement lid” for the Hebrew word kapporet to represent that this ornate “lid” for the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:10-22) is the location where atonement is made and accepted (NET footnote). When there was a tabernacle or temple, the atonement lid/mercy seat was located inside the most holy place (also called the inner sanctuary or holy of holies). A heavy curtain or veil separated this inner sanctuary from view; only the high priest could enter and only once a year.

That background helps us understand what the New Testament writers tell us about Jesus’s death. When Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45 say “the temple curtain was torn in two” when Jesus died, they most likely mean the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. Jesus’s death ripped open the separation between God and man. We’re not removed from the place where God appears or the location where atonement is made anymore. On their own, human beings had never been holy or pure enough to be in God’s presence, but now through the blood of Jesus which washes our sins away we can access the holiest places in the heavens.

One Sacrifice in the Heavenly Sanctuary

As we’ve seen, even though the Greek word translated “mercy seat” only shows up twice in the New Testament, the concept plays a much bigger role than it might seem at first. When Paul calls Jesus “the mercy seat accessible through faith,” it’s in the context of God’s righteousness (which “is attested by the law and the prophets”) being even more fully demonstrated in Jesus and the New Covenant than it was in the Old Covenant law (Rom. 3:19-26). There’s a “passing over” of sins that is connected with sacrifice, and the “mercy seat” is the “place or object” where that propitiation/atonement happens (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1023, kapportet).

The author of Hebrews expands on this sacrifice even more. As part of a lengthy discussion of Jesus’s priesthood (which takes up most of the book), this writer says one of the reasons that Jesus “shared in” our “humanity” was “so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17, NET). Remember, for Jewish readers (and probably non-Jewish converts in that society as well) the idea of atonement was linked to Yom Kippur and the sacrifice for that day where the high priest offered blood and incense at the mercy seat. Unlike the Old Covenant Levitical priests, Jesus “has no need” to offer daily or even yearly sacrifices (Heb. 7:23-28; 10:10-14). His New Covenant priesthood operates on a heavenly level.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands—the representation of the true sanctuary—but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice.

Hebrews 9:24-26, NET

The holy places, priesthood, worship, and sacrifices of the Old Covenant all pointed to this: Jesus the High Priest entering the heavenly sanctuary with His own blood to put away sin from all who will accept what He does on their behalf. The importance of Jesus’s sacrifice is something that all Christians, whatever their background or denomination, are intimately familiar with. The more we learn about the rich history of worship and covenants that frame His sacrifice, though, the more fully we can understand and appreciate what Jesus did. And it also deepens our understanding of what He is currently doing–His priesthood has no expiration date. He is still, right this very moment, acting as the “mercy seat” and High Priest in the heavenly temple whose atonement sacrifice removes all our sins by substituting Himself in our place.

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock