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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Lord’s Wonderful Faithfulness Toward Us

We often talk about our faith–faith toward God, faith in His promises, faith that He really does exist and that He really is God. In addition to that, the Bible frequently talks about God’s faith toward us. He is described as “faithful” in all His dealings with humanity, and it’s often in the context of praise.

I’ve noticed myself thanking God for His faithfulness in many of my prayers lately. I love the reassurance of knowing God is faithful. We can anchor our hope in that truth, knowing He won’t fail us. He’s constant, reliable, and committed. His faithfulness is a fact that doesn’t change, but sometimes we can lose sight of or forget about it, which lets doubts and worries get a foothold in our lives. The crazier life gets, the more we need to remember the faithfulness of God in order to stay confidently grounded in our faith through the storms of life.

Faithfulness in His Work

God’s faithfulness has been part of all His dealings from the beginning. One psalmist wrote, “All his work is done in faithfulness” (Ps. 33:4, WEB). Those works include creation, His dealings with people, the covenants He made, and the promises He gives us for a good future.

Yahweh, you are my God. I will exalt you! I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago, in complete faithfulness and truth.

Isaiah 25:1, WEB

From our more limited perspective, it might sometimes seem as if the world and its history are random, chaotic, and miserable. But since the very beginning, God has been working on (and doing) wonderful things. He shares details about that work with us in the Bible, and invites us to be part of the continuing work today.

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6, NET

Paul doesn’t use the word “faithfulness” in this verse, but that’s the concept He’s talking about. God will always be who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do. That’s what makes Paul’s confidence possible. And because God’s faithfulness is unchanging, we can also have the same confidence today that Paul had nearly 2,000 years ago. God started a good work in us when He called us into His family, and He’s not going to give up on us.

Faithfulness in His Life and Death

Paul speaks more directly about God’s faithfulness in Romans, where he connects it with righteousness and Jesus’s sacrifice. In this letter, Paul is talking about the role of the Law for New Covenant believers and the transition from keeping the letter of the Law under the Old Covenant to keeping the spirit of the Law under the New Covenant.

Today, under the New Covenant, Paul writes that the “righteousness of God” has been revealed “apart from the law” to those who had been under the law (the Jewish people and ancient Israel) as well as to “the whole world” (Rom. 3:19-21). This happens “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Romans 3:25-26, NET

God’s faithfulness finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, who faithfully held up His part of the covenants He made with people and died to make a new, better covenant possible. We live because of Jesus’s faithfulness, and we can trust that the Father (who was willing to give up His Son for us) and the Son (who was willing to give up His life for us) will remain faithful into the future as well.

Faithfulness in Relation to Us

After reaching this point in our study of faithfulness, it’s no wonder that the psalms are filled with praise for God’s wonderful faith toward us. What can be more amazing than the Creator Lord of the Universe committing Himself to you, and me, and every believer? We ought to be in awe of His faithfulness and of the incredible love at its core.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give him thanks.
Praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His loyal love endures,
and he is faithful through all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5, NET

I will give you thanks before the nations, O Lord.
I will sing praises to you before foreigners.
For your loyal love extends beyond the sky,
and your faithfulness reaches the clouds.

Psalm 108:3-4, NET

These Psalmists could praise the Lord’s faithfulness like this even before Jesus came as the Messiah. How much more cause do we have now to sing praise, knowing what we know today and being recipients of His grace? We have such incredible proof of God’s faithfulness recorded in scripture, both in the stories of faithful believers and in the reality of Jesus’s sacrifice.

Many of us (perhaps all of us reading this) have also all been on the receiving end of His faithfulness. Accepting Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf lets us participate in one of the most significant proofs of God’s faithfulness, and if you’re like me you also have an abundance of other examples of God’s faithfulness showing up in your life. Today, I invite you to join me in meditating on the Lord’s faithfulness toward you and the proofs of His ongoing faithfulness in scripture. Though other parts of our lives might seem unstable, unreliable, or unpredictable God is faithful. We can trust Him to be exactly who He says He is, do exactly what He says He’ll do, and never give up on the work He has begun inside us.

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Our Daily Bread

We recently observed Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot). I suppose studying what the Bible has to say about bread is an obvious topic after that, but it’s been a more interesting study than I’d expected for something that seems so basic. Even the Lord’s model prayer that so many of us memorize talks about bread, and it has more to say on that topic than I’d assumed. Bread also acts as a spiritual symbol in scripture–Jesus calls Himself the “Bread of Life” and Paul talks about what kind of bread we’re supposed to be.

Bread for Each Day

So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13, NET

The phrase “our daily bread” involves a curious word. In Greek, “daily” is epiousios (G1967) and it’s only used here and in Luke’s account of this same prayer. It’s not even used outside of the Bible anywhere but other “early Christian literature,” which makes the meaning hard to figure out (NET footnote). “Daily” is just a best-guess for the translation. Other suggestions include “the coming day,” “for existence” (NET footnote), “the bread of our necessity,” and “the bread that suffices for each day” (Thayer’s dictionary).

I wonder if, in using a word that indicated sufficient, needed bread for each day, Jesus might have been thinking about Proverbs 30. Here, Agur asks for two things from God: “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; do not give me poverty or riches” (Prov. 30:7-8, NET). This last one might seem an odd request–who wouldn’t want to be rich?–and Agur provides further details.

feed me with my allotted portion of bread,
lest I become satisfied and act deceptively
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I become poor and steal
and demean the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9, NET

It seems there’s as much of a danger in feeling as if you are “rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing” (to quote the Laodiceans from Revelation 3) as there is in being so poverty stricken that you’re in danger of starving. Neither extreme is healthy, and so balance in prosperity is a prayer worth praying. We need balance–both in the physical things like Agur is talking about and in the spiritual things that Jesus is talking about in the letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22).

I usually think of the request in the model prayer as asking for provision of needs, with bread standing in for all the things like food and clothing that Jesus tells us we don’t need to worry about just a little later in this same sermon (Matt. 6:25-34). I recently heard someone point out, though, that the focus of this prayer isn’t on physical things. It’s about honoring God’s name, praying for His will and His kingdom, and asking for forgiveness and deliverance. There’s no reason not to assume physical provision is included, but it’s likely that Jesus also intended for us to think about spiritual bread. He is, after all, the bread of life.

Living Bread from Heaven

After one of the loaves and fishes miracles (recorded in John 6), Jesus crossed over to the other side of a lake and the whole multitude followed Him. There, He told them they’d followed Him not because they believed He was the Messiah or because they saw miracles, but because they’d eaten a free meal. He advised them, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life” (John 6:27, NET). To work for this eternal food, they must do “the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (6:29). Then, these same people who’d just seen Jesus turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for more than 5,000 people with 12 baskets full of leftovers, actually asked Him, “what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you?” They even brought up the manna in the wilderness miracle, showing full well that they knew they’d seen one bread miracle and were asking for another (John 6:30-31).

Jesus and His Father weren’t focused on delivering physical bread this time, though. There wasn’t going to be a repeat of free food on the ground every morning when the Israelites woke up (Ex. 16:4-36). Rather, they’d planned a far more enduring way to satisfy a deeper, spiritual hunger. Yes, Jesus fed the people when they were hungry but the plan was to go far beyond providing for physical needs. Just as Jesus was here on earth to take the Law and the Covenants to a deeper, higher, fuller level, He did the same thing with the miracle of bread from heaven.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

John 6:48-51, 54-55, NET

This brings us right back to where we started this post: Passover and Unleavened Bread. Jesus’s flesh is symbolized by the bread and His blood by the wine that form the core symbols of the New Covenant Passover (Matt. 26:26-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). The invitation for us to eat this bread from heaven is also an invitation to be part of His covenant community and be sustained by God.

Our Unleavened Lives

Grace and salvation through Jesus Christ are gifts that we can do nothing to earn. Once we accept those gifts, though, we enter a reciprocal covenant relationship with God. We are supposed to respond a certain way after we’ve received grace. In other words, it is because of the Bread of Life that we ourselves can take on the characteristics of a very particular kind of bread.

Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place. Therefore let’s keep the feast, not with old yeast, neither with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Cor. 5:7-8, WEB

Because we “eat” the Bread of Life, we become “unleavened” bread. Symbolically during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven represents sin. Eating unleavened bread for that seven-day festival pictures us putting sin out of our lives and replacing it with His character. During the remaining days of the year, though we are free to eat yeasted and otherwise leavened breads, the importance of turning to God to fill all our needs (including our need to daily take-in Jesus Christ) remains the same.

God is concerned about our physical needs. He appreciates it when we choose not to fret about where we’ll get our physical daily bread and instead ask Him to provide (as Jesus did in His model prayer), trusting that He can and will take care of us. Even more than that, though, He is concerned about supplying our spiritual needs because that has eternal ramifications. We also ought to pray for God to “give us today our daily Bread of Life,” trusting that He will satisfy our spiritual hunger.

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The Rightness of Trusting God’s Will Even When It’s Scary

One of the most astonishing statements in all of scripture was made on Passover evening nearly 2000 years ago, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Knowing exactly what was about to happen, Jesus still prayed “not my will but yours be done” (Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46). This is the ultimate example of meekness–power submitted to the will of God. Jesus could have asked His Father for “more than twelve legions of angels” to free Him from the arresting mob if He’d wanted to(Matt. 26:51-45). Instead, He said, “Father, if this cup cannot be taken away from me unless I drink it, your will must be done” (Matt. 26:42).

Scripture describes Jesus as being “anguished and distressed” and feeling “deeply grieved” in His soul. Emotionally, that sounds like just about as bad as it can get for a human being. Yet even in such a dire situation, He prayed for God’s will to be done. I suspect He even prayed that in part because of the dire situation, using His conviction that God can be trusted and that His will is best to carry Him through what lay ahead.

For us today, who’ve committed to following Jesus’s example, “Your will be done” should also be our prayer during times of testing and trouble (as well as in good times). That’s not always easy to say, though. We might even be afraid or reluctant to pray for God’s will to be done, especially when the future seems uncertain. It comes down to an issue of trust and perspective.

God Knows Best

I often think about the spiritual implications of my struggles with anxiety. If I give in to catastrophizing and fear, what does that say about my level of (mis)trust in God? Connecting that idea to today’s post, it seems that whether or not we want to pray, “Your will be done,” is often tied-in to all those fears and worries. Is God really good all the time? Does He care enough to make this situation work out for me? What if praying for His will means I don’t get what I want or need?

I think we need to reject shaming people (including ourselves) for weaknesses and fears, and rather encourage each other to keep choosing trust and faith over and over again. Anxieties are “afflictions, not sins” (to quote C.S. Lewis), though they can lead us into sin if we let them. Overcoming fear is an ongoing process and it involves conscious choice, including the choice to trust that God knows what He’s doing.

We know that we should pray for God’s will to be done, but we’re often afraid to. Why? Because we do not trust that His will is best for us. We think His agenda and ours are by nature at odds with one another.

Because of our corruption, they may in fact be at odds. But if we could see the whole picture, we would understand that it is our own will that falls short of fulfilling our well-being, not His.

CHRIS TIEGREEN, 365 POCKET DEVOTIONS, DAY 114

It’s often easy to pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NET). When it’s less personal, sometimes it’s easier to wrap our minds around the idea that God changing things and making them better is a good thing (especially when it’s becoming more and more clear how much suffering and corruption is in the world). But it’s often harder to pray, “May your will be done (not mine)” in very personal situations that affect us immediately and directly (especially if we have a preferred outcome in mind). And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did, and what His disciples do.

His Good Plans Will Come to Pass

Paul’s a great example of one of Jesus’s disciples who submitted his own will and plans for his life to God. He started out by persecuting those who believed in Jesus the Messiah, then completely changed his life in response to God making His will known. That cost Paul greatly in terms of physical things, but also blessed him richly in terms of spiritual things.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about Paul’s view on trials–“that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18, NET). It might not seem at first as if he’s talking about God’s will here, but he is. Going back to Romans 7:14-21, we find Paul describing the struggle between his unspiritual self and the spiritual law of God–his will versus God’s will. Next, Romans 8:1-17 talks about the leading of God’s spirit and Him saving us from sin, which is something He desires/wills for all people (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Then, Paul describes a struggle in creation, which was not willingly “subjected to futility … in hope,” but as part of God’s will for adopting children into His family (Rom. 8:19-26).

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose …. What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:27-28, 31, NET

God has a plan. It’s a good plan. And because He’s the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe, His good plans for each of us and the whole of creation will come to pass. When we keep this in mind, there’s no need for us to fearfully grasp for control or to worry and fret about the future (Matt. 6:25-34).

We Follow in Christ’s Footsteps

I recently started reading C.S. Lewis’s collection of passages from George MacDonald’s writings. One of the quotes which caught my eye says that because God “is against sin,” sometimes it also feels as if He is against the things that we want, strive for, and dream about. Which might actually be the case, if we’re still living lives influenced by sin, but God is never against us. When God is against someone’s sinful desires,” He is altogether and always for them” (Unspoken Sermons, First Series, The Consuming Fire). God is for us, and sometimes that means showing us that the things we want aren’t good for us. MacDonald also said that God’s “wrath will consume what they call themselves so that the selves God made shall appear” (same source). Coming to the Light isn’t always a comfortable process, but it is always good for us.

What these quotes make me think of is the fact that because God’s will and His love always work for good in the end, sometimes the immediate result of submitting to His will is painful, as it was for Jesus. Jesus knew, though, that His suffering was part of God’s plan to bring about good for the whole world, and things happened exactly as the Father purposed (Acts 4:27-28). Jesus prayed for God’s will knowing with absolute certainty “that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3, NET). We also know that He focused on “the joy set out for him” when “he endured the cross, disregarding its shame,” and that He “has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12: 2, NET). Following His example, we can also pray for God’s will to be done knowing that God has good things in store for us and for the entire world.

Thinking about Jesus’s trust in His Father also adds another layer to how we can understand the verse, “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:7, NET). Jesus did not need to be disciplined in order to correct bad behavior (since He never sinned), but He certainly suffered. Scripture is clear that following in His footsteps will involve suffering (sometimes from the world, sometimes as an attack from spiritual evil, and sometimes as part of God’s refining process that’s meant to strengthen us and help us grow). When we suffer, we know that we’re not going through anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to go through as well; God is not treating us any differently than He did His only begotten son. We also know that we can look forward to the same goal that Jesus focused on–the goal of eternal life together with God, as a family. We can also pray “your will be done” knowing that God is faithful, that He knows what He’s doing, and that He will work things out for good in the end.

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