"It is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I Wish I Had This Book Years Ago
I remember like it was yesterday. I had just moved away home for the first time in my life. I walked into a middle school gym in West Knoxville, greeted by a young guy named Wes. Soon after, I was approached by an energetic, red-bearded, bald guy who was the lead pastor Legacy Knoxville. His frame, reminiscent of collegiate distance runners who sport $400 Garmin watches and heart rate monitoring chest straps, was a picture of health! Since church planters are usually the crazy guys who have caffeine piped in via IV, work 100 hours a week, and somehow manage to keep their hipster beards perfectly groomed, I didn't think twice about Luke's health or ability to get the job done.
Months later, I was sitting with him at a coffee shop discussing a leadership cohort at Legacy and having accountability discussions with him when he told me the story of his burnout several years prior. I had never heard of burnout and still couldn't imagine a pastor being unable to get out of bed. God is sovereign, right? He can keep pastors from being weak and burning out!
Though I took Luke seriously, I couldn't imagine ever burning out. I was a millennial in the invincible stage of life known as "the 20's". Sometime after that conversation, I attended a conference called "How To Screw Up a Church" in which he discussed burnout among other topics. Still feeling invincible, I agreed with a close friend that we didn't need to be legalistic about sleep and diet because God will use us as He sees fit. If Spurgeon, Calvin, and Luther could survive on little to no sleep, so can I!
It wasn't until I moved back home, changed jobs, lost a cousin and grandfather in two months, starting raising my second daughter, and hit some significant financial struggles that I experienced a season of burnout. I wasn't even an elder yet, but I was preaching some, teaching Sunday School, leading a community group, and seriously discussing the possibility of becoming a pastor at my local church. At the same time, I couldn't sleep, my acid reflux was worse than ever, I developed some serious IBS symptoms that got me in trouble at work, my anxiety skyrocketed, and my energy plummeted. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me!
I was I had Leadership Durability back then.
Leadership Durability by Luke Thomas is one of those books that you'll probably read through the first time and say, "Ah, that doesn't apply to me". Your pastor friends will, too. They will probably push back with some pious rejections about how we need to trust God more than diet, sleep, medicine, etc. I've been on both sides of these conversations, feeling overly skeptical sometimes and bitterly frustrated at others.
If Luke didn't write this book, I would be inclined to believe the same thing. If I hadn't seen pastors in my own life on the verge of burnout, I would think otherwise. If it weren't for my own experiences with overwork and constant stress, I would write this book off, too. It is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign. For many of us—whether we are leaders or not—the ominous clouds, cool wind, and rumbling thunder in the distance have been ignored for too long. It's time to take cover.
"I'm thankful to have met Luke, and it is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign."
Some authors are unnecessarily provocative. Luke isn't one of them. Sometimes we need Terry Tate, The Office Linebacker (be prepared for some language if you look him up!) to slam us into the wall when we do stupid stuff. In many ways, Luke offers a much needed and well appreciated wounding to my ego. I'll leave you with a few examples:
As a hungry reader and semi-professional Googler, I do a lot of research. I found out the other night that mid back pain is a sure sign of cancer, even though it's likely to be a pulled muscle or minor strain that a chiropractor adjustment and some physical therapy can fix. I've read up on adrenal fatigue, burnout, fad diets and their thousands of alterations, masterclasses for more energy, HIIT training techniques, and much more! However, I've never actually been to a naturopathic doctor, read books and research papers on these topics, received extensive testing and diagnosis of issues, or worked with specialists in these fields.
Leadership Durability boasts a hefty lists of references from noteworthy Christian authors from Kevin DeYoung and Jerry Bridges to experts in productivity, nutrition, and health like Cal Newport and Ben Greenfield. Luke disperses technical language, relevant quotes, and clear explanations to help readers understand the nuance and validity of his recommendations as well as the depth of research behind them. Aside from reading this book, I now have a wealth of resources to dive deeper into specific areas Luke covered.
Luke Thomas pastors a local church. More specifically, he is one of the pastors at Legacy Knoxville, and he penned Leadership Durability with a desire to help other pastors and leaders lead well. He lays out copious amounts of scientific and psychological research to back his points, yet he is more concerned with being godly, Christ-honoring pastors. In order to do this we have to humble, and "the key here is to be totally honest with yourself, freely acknowledging you’re a cracked and imperfect jar of clay that God has grace and love for. Health and growth begins here" (p. 63).
In one of his frequent reminders to find true rest, Luke cuts deep and urges that "if you’re interested in avoiding burnout, or are attempting to come out of burnout, you must find rest, find it often, and do it to the glory of God!" (p. 174). He is not offering secular psychology or worldly self-help, because the results will only be superficial and short-lived. For pastors and godly leaders in a variety of fields, this is never enough. Rather, we must make it our life's goal to preach the gospel to ourselves and remember Jesus' powerful—and deeply truthful—words, "apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
If you're a leader, get your hands on Leadership Durability. We're not invincible and we're certainly not beyond the need to grow in some of the most vital areas of our lives. If you're not a leader, you can still benefit from much of what Thomas teaches here. Pastors love gifts, especially good books! Grab a copy for your pastor!
Leadership Durability by Luke Thomas will be released on June 28th, 2019. Pre-orders are available now!
I jokingly sent the following Father's Day sermon outline to a pastor friend who asked me to preach at his church on Sunday morning.
Three C’s of fatherhood are:
In reality, this isn't far from our culture’s view of fatherhood, and this deficient view has even crept into the church. Too many wives and mothers sit alone on Sunday morning. A woman begs her husband to come to church. She prays fervently to get him to show up on a Wednesday night. If she can coax him to lead a class one time, she feels like she's got the next John Piper!
Of course, I’m being facetious, but why are 61% of our churches made up of women? In a country with 97 males for every 100 females, why are so few men and fathers attending a local church? The answer vary, and pragmatism won't fix the problem. How men can be spiritual leaders in their homes when they're actively neglecting the local gathering (Hebrews 10:25).
There is a fatherhood crisis in our culture, and it's a not a social problem. It's a spiritual problem. God programs aren't cure, Good News is. The issue is more than mere presence, we have a problem of purpose.
Where have all the fathers gone?
We need fathers in our homes flipping through books and tucking their children in bed. Our children must hear the gospel preached and see God's power in their homes every day. Little boys long to see their father pursue his wife in ways that movies refuse to portray. Our daughters yearn to see a man who models the biblical standards they'll one day seek in a husband.
The world needs fathers who believe the gospel and point their children to God’s grace in their obedience as well as their failures. Are you doing your part?
Youtube is a double-edged sword. Anytime an average Joe can film himself on a smartphone and influence people, it's destined to fail miserably. However, Youtube is great for many reasons, especially my DIY needs. I'm broke and always looking to fix things myself.
When my dishwasher flooded the kitchen floor, some plumber taught me how to replace the gaskets that were leaking. When the dishes wouldn't come clean, another Youtube plumber taught me how to remove the milling blade and clear out the filters. I wouldn't call myself a handy man or Mr. Fix It, but I got the job done.
Too often we think the Bible is like Youtube. Something needs to be fixed and we've seen plenty of fathers go to church, read the Bible, and do better. It's a fatal misconception. While Christian bookstores and pulpits across the globe are filled self-help practices and DIY guides guaranteeing results, the reality is that the solution is outside of yourself. There aren't 10 steps or 5 C's to become a better dad. Becoming a godly father is often a grueling process of failures and success resembling a rollercoaster rather than a steep ramp.
Fathers, we need the gospel.
"A surefire way to destroy your home is to try to fix it yourself."
Without the Gospel...
1. Without the gospel, you are dead in your sins. Christ alone brings redemption through His blood (Ephesians 1:7), and we are all sinners who have earned the wages of death. Only Christ can bring us the forgiveness we vitally need. Until we believe the gospel and trust in Him, we remain dead (Ephesians 2:1). Not paralyzed. Not weak. Dead. Dead people don't fix things. A surefire way to destroy your home is to try to fix it yourself.
2. Without the gospel, you are spiritually fatherless. Through Christ, believers have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of adoption—in us cries out, “Abba, Father” to remind us that we are God's children. As a child of God you have a loving, caring Father who loved you enough to send His Son to die on the cross for you. God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and faithful toward His children (Psalm 86:15). Until you become God's child, you are a spiritual orphan.
3. Without the gospel, you have no power. If you want to live a powerless life, live a gospel-less life. You may be able to go to work, pay the bills, and berate your family into submission, but you’ll never have the power to be a godly father. You're weak and deficient at worst and self-congratulatory and prideful at best. Worst of all, you’ll never be able to obey the clear biblical commands. God’s power works mightily in the heart of every believer, building us together into a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). Left to yourself, you can do nothing.
4. Without the gospel, your message is hypocritical. Without believing the gospel yourself, you walk in contradiction each time you call your children to believe the gospel. You can tell them to love God, but you can't love Him yourself. You aren't being strengthened through the Spirit to understand the love of Christ that surpasses all understanding. Even a vast theological library and expansive knowledge of scripture won’t be enough to show your children the power of the gospel in your life. Only God can. He does this as you behold Christ and His Spirit transforms you from the inside out (2 Corinthians 3:18). Minus the gospel, your life will be that of a graceless hypocrite.
5. Without the gospel, you’ll have no victory in spiritual warfare. Since the Garden of Eden, we have seen Satan waging all out war on our souls, our families, and our communities. Unarmed and unguarded against our spiritual enemy, we are in a fearful place. In Christ you're guaranteed victory over sin and Satan—part victory now and ultimate victory when Christ returns. Not only did Jesus disarm Satan and his fallen angels, He has also already marched them around in a victory march broadcasting their shame (Colossians 2:15). He has triumphed over them in His resurrection, and in Him, you have died with Christ and been raised with Him. Arming yourself with only physical weaponry puts you in a losing battle on the defeated team.
"You may be able to go to work, pay the bills, and berate your family into submission, but you’ll never have the power to be a godly father."
Run To Jesus
You need Christ to make you the father you want to be. If you don’t desire to be a godly father, beg God to give you the right desires. The greatest need for you and for your children is that you know Christ and point them to Him! Don't try harder in your own strength. You need to drop to the feet of Jesus and cry out for help. Don’t bruise yourself and wallow in the mire of your failure. Instead, set your eyes on the One who bore the cross and despised its shame. Cling to this great Savior who brings forgiveness only through His name!
Take your fatherhood successes and failures to God in prayer. Confess your sins to God and earnestly seek forgiveness Turn from your insufficient fatherhood and cling to the heavenly Father who put perfect fatherhood on display. Pore over the scriptures and be the father God has called you to be.
Fathers, you are needed!
"The Glory of Grace: An Introduction to the Puritans in The Own Words by Lewis Allen and Tim Chester is your welcome mat to the readings of Puritans. While they can hardly scratch the surface of these deeply biblical and grace-driven Christians in such a short volume, they will help whet your appetite to devour more of the Puritan literature and, most importantly, God’s Word."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Have you ever heard a respected pastor bring a sermon quote that seemed to knock the wind right out of you? Maybe it was John Piper’s “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you”, as he famously quoted by John Owen. That one was a gamechanger for me. Perhaps it was a quote by Richard Sibbes, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan. Only a cursory reading of this era of Christian literature will leave your head spinning, bring conviction and encouragement, and give you a list of pithy quotes to pass on, paraphrase, or ponder in your reading and devotional time.
These men (and women like Anne Bradstreet) represent an amazing period of post-Reformation church history. The Puritans knew grace, committed themselves to education, longed to see the power of gospel transformation, and strove to know God above all else.
The Glory of Grace: An Introduction to the Puritans in The Own Words by Lewis Allen and Tim Chester is your welcome mat to the readings of Puritans. While they can hardly scratch the surface of these deeply biblical and grace-driven Christians in such a short volume, they will help whet your appetite to devour more of the Puritan literature and, most importantly, God’s Word.
The list of Puritans in this short volume is far from exhaustive but gives you a glimpse of the riches found in the writings of the Puritan era. Allen and Chester highlight the following Puritans pastors, authors, and poets:
Each chapter includes a very brief biography of the author followed by excerpts of their most popular and noteworthy writings. Since the Puritan writings can be rough waters to wade through, Lewis and Allen gently edited their writings, replacing archaic words with contemporary ones as well as adding headings to aid in reading comprehension—think King James Version without “thee”, “thou”, or “superfluity of naughtiness”.
Whether you’re just getting introduced to the Puritans or have read several Puritan works, The Glory of Grace is a great introduction to the Puritans. As an avid reader, I always get excited to see recommended further readings. Every chapter, including the introduction, has them. Be sure to grab some of those readings—many found at Banner of Truth—and continue reading the Puritans. Not only will you get pithy quotes and convicting sermons, but you’ll also get biblical references galore. Consider The Glory of Grace a wade into the shallow end of rich Puritan theology.
"The new ESV Prayer Bible from Crossway lends us a hand in our prayer lives, providing us with some helpful features sure to stir us to deeper prayer lives as we spend our devotional time in God’s Word."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Is your prayer life anemic and in need of a spark? I feel that way more often than I’d like to admit. When I don’t use my Bible and notebook to pray, I end up rambling and chasing squirrels for 15 or 20 minutes—if I can last that long. Even when I use the Bible, some portions lend themselves easily to prayer while others prove more challenging.
The new ESV Prayer Bible from Crossway lends us a hand in our prayer lives, providing us with some helpful features sure to stir us to deeper prayer lives as we spend our devotional time in God’s Word. If you want to grow in prayer, here are a few features that are sure to be a blessing to your prayer life:
1. An introduction to praying the Bible from Don Whitney, author of Pray the Bible. He offers “a simple, permanent, biblical solution” to our struggles with prayer, calling us to “speak to (God) about what we read, verse by verse, in the Bible”.
2. Nearly 400 prayers from theologians, pastors, and Christian writers throughout history have been weaved throughout this Bible. The prayers are easily distinguishable from the biblical text with a smaller and lighter font. This is my most favorite feature because I am encouraged by Spurgeon to pray in light of the truths in Numbers 13 or John Wesley in Proverbs 3. Our most favorite theologians, preachers, and writers were first men and women of prayer and we get a glimpse into the intimacy some of them had with God to stir us to more fervent and biblical prayer.
3. The author index features a skillfully illustrated portrait of each featured author with a brief biography of their lives and impacts. You’ll find writers and preachers such as Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Newton, Blaise Pascal, Richard Sibbes, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, George Whitfield, and many more!*
4. The prayer index lists the scripture passages where prayers are found. What’s so cool about this index is that Crossway provides readers with the source of each prayer. For hungry or interested readers, this will be a great way to beef up your library with some excellent resources to spur on your prayer life!
The ESV Prayer Bible is a much-welcomed addition to my library and has already stirred up my prayer life. Seeing prayers in Numbers and Leviticus pushes me to read prayerfully, even in sections that don’t seem to be easily prayed through.
Grab a couple of copies and start praying through the Bible with someone!
*I noticed that some of the authors with featured prayers include post-Reformation Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, mystics, and others with whom you and I might disagree. For me, this doesn’t take away from the quality of this Bible because the majority of the prayers come from writers and preachers with whom I consider to have sound doctrine.
"The bible stories come to life with vivid action verbs, catchy illustrations, and the brevity necessary for the attention span of the little people we chase around all day. "
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Do you have toddlers running amok in your home? Are you a friend, grandparent, Sunday School teacher, or nursery worker in your local church? If so, you’re probably well aware that Christian books for children are in high demand. Reading to children is vital, and teaching them the scriptures is even more necessary.
Have you ever read a children’s book about the bible that just so slightly missed the mark? Maybe they told most of the story correctly but passed over a detail that was vital. Perhaps they paraphrased the story well but failed to point to the gospel.
This is a problem. We want our children to know God’s word accurately. We also desire that they come to faith in Christ and not rely on themselves or some inherent goodness which the scripture clearly teaches they don’t have (Romans 3:10).
Steph Williams’ Little Me, Big God series does a wonderful job of blending accuracy with engagement. The bible stories come to life with vivid action verbs, catchy illustrations, and the brevity necessary for the attention span of the little people we chase around all day.
The series contains three wonderful books:
Each book has “Notes For Grown-Ups” and the biblical text from the New International Version, making these books a wonderful tool for family worship, preschool class, or reading time for the little ones in your life.
Grab a set of the Little Me, Big God books and buy another set for someone who has little ones! It’s well worth the investment to see children being saturated in the scriptures!
" It’s a blessing to soak up over forty years of strong biblical exposition and preaching from a man who has seen firsthand the powers of scripture and big prayers."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Prayer is a massive endeavor. It also reveals a lot about us. Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s quote is timeless: “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” There is nothing more vital to our faith than prayer.
Yet it seems that prayer often falls to the wayside. Why does something so important take the backseat for smaller, often insignificant things in life? Put simply: our view of prayer is too small
In Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle, Alistair Begg lays out a path toward bigger, more enjoyable prayer. God makes prayer grand, and we have the ear of the universe’s Creator and our Redeemer. This should impact not only that we pray, but also how we pray. Begg brings us into the prayer life of the Apostle Paul to give a glimpse of how Paul prayed.
This devotional read is not a theology of prayer, rather it’s an exposition of the posture of prayer. Rather than pointing to human ability or man-centered boldness, Begg calls for dependence and genuine spiritual intimacy with the Lord. He then lays out five great qualities of prayer found in Paul’s prayers for the church in Ephesus:
Paul displays each of these elements in his bold and powerful prayers in Ephesians 1:16-21 and 3:14-21. Begg hinges the book on these prayers, keeping us anchored to the text of scripture as we work through the elements on big prayer. It’s a blessing to soak up over forty years of strong biblical exposition and preaching from a man who has seen firsthand the powers of scripture and big prayers.
Praying big means praying in faith that God can and will do what He has promised for our sake, the sake of others, and the glory of His Holy name. This is all made possible through the faithful Father, sacrificial Son of God, and sanctifying Spirit of God. We pray big because our God is big. If the apostles, a ragtag bunch of sinful men could pray this way, so can we!
At just over 100 pages, Pray Big is the perfect book for your devotional time, a small group, or some one-on-one discipleship. Learn to pray. Teach others to pray. Do it all for the glory of Christ.
"If we let the world raise our children, we can’t be surprised if they come to love the world rather than God."
Into The Laps Of Our Children
The text message saddened and angered me. It astonished me to read, “Wow, Mr. Ratburn on PBS kid show Arthur is gay. He married a man on the show”. Kid shows often stay neutral on these issues, so I searched for myself. Sure enough, Mr. Ratburn came out as gay and got married in the “Arthur” season premiere.
I watched “Arthur” as a kid. My children did, too.
The Ratburn episode illuminates a grander reality in America. American Christians aren’t surprised by gay marriage, nor are we oblivious to the reality that gay marriage is legal and now being embedded as a cultural norm. However, alarm bells ring when homosexual marriage sneaks into our living rooms and whispers a contradictory worldview in their ears.
Homosexuality has appeared in children’s television before—in fact, a 2005 “Arthur” episode featured a friend with two moms. Doc McStuffins had an episode featuring an interracial lesbian couple and Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie have also been confirmed as a gay couple.
Homosexuality as a cultural norm is no longer something “out there” waiting for our children when they enter the real world. It is barging into our living rooms and demanding that we say something.
Gay Marriage is a Sin Problem
Am I just an alarmed, far right bigot indoctrinating my children with an ancient text? Some readers will say that I am. Is this post uttering intolerant hate speech and teaching our children to hate homosexuals? To many, it will be read that way.
That is far from the truth. Homosexual marriage decimates Scripture’s proclamation that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Instead, people have replaced God’s special revelation with an alternative that doesn’t even allow for natural procreation.
In all of American history, heterosexual marriage was considered the norm, even by secular Americans. The tides have completely turned.
Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). Numerous other sins will keep people from inheriting the Kingdom of God, such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). There are more lists, and we are all on them. There is none righteous (Romans 3:10).
But the same Jesus who died on the cross for those other sins also died to save homosexuals who will place their faith in Christ and turn from their sin. The same Spirit who brought us from darkness to light can do the same for homosexuals. The same Father who loved us and gave His Son for us can do the same for homosexuals.
All sinners, whether gay or straight, can run to Christ for forgiveness and repentance. The Scriptures still hold true that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Parenting On Guard
I need to repent of being too lax with television consumption in my home. We don’t even have cable, so I convinced myself of some illusionary control that slipped from my hands in an instant.
If you’re a Christian parent concerned with your child’s worldview, join me in guarding our children. This doesn’t mean living in a “Christian bubble” pretending that sin doesn’t exist. Rather, proactively instill a biblical worldview through conversations and discussions using Scripture as the foundation.
In response to “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” we must commit to using much wisdom and diligence in protecting our children from anti-biblical worldviews. How can we do this?
Guard the worldviews that enter your homes. As our culture embraces abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism, and other sins as normal, Christians must engage with the world’s perspectives and refute them with Scripture. Talk about the Bible with your children when “you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Dt. 6:7). If we let the world raise our children, we can’t be surprised if they come to love the world rather than God.
Guard the media your children enjoy. Change the media appetite in your home. Rather than cherry-picking which hot ticket sins to guard them against, families should ask of every show, “Does this hinder my child from the glory of God and His work in the gospel?”. Any shows that normalize sin should be removed from our watchlists—at least until our children are old enough to teach them discernment. Christian alternatives such as Pureflix, JellyTelly, and RightNow Media might sound corny, but holiness will never be cool to the world.
Be bold like Joshua who said, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Guard against losing the gospel. We will fail our children if we don’t give them the gospel. Sin is in their hearts, even if they’ve been rescued by our Savior. Stop treating them like they’re innocent little angels who could never do wrong. It’s simply untrue. Every human being carries the sin of Adam—even our beloved kiddos. Like their parents, they deserve to be punished for their sins by the Holy God of the universe.
But God, in lovingkindness sent Jesus to save people from their sins. But God gave His Holy Spirit to turn our dead, stony hearts into living, bleeding hearts alive to His goodness and glory. But God calls all people, gay or straight, to repent and believe in His Son. He will rescue any sinner who cries out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” and places their full hope in Jesus.
God can reconcile the worst of sinners to Himself. If He saved us, He can save anyone. Ask Rosaria Butterfield. Ask Jackie Hill Perry. Ask Peter. Ask Paul. Ask Solomon. Ask David. Ask Rahab. Ask Abraham. Ask Noah.
How will you and your family respond to the moral shift that is working its way into our homes?
Is it tough to imagine that people with abundance struggle with contentment? Shouldn't the wealthy and most successful people be the happiest? The opposite seems true as Americans are becoming less happy rather than more. If you're reading this blog post, you may even be one of them. I'm one of them. The shock value really sets in when you consider that, according to Global Rich List, a net income of $2,700 per month places us among the top 1% of the richest people in the world.
Why does it still feel like we don't have enough? Why doesn't prosperity automatically equal contentment? Why doesn't success render us the most joyful people in the world?
The Answer is a Secret
The answer lies in Philippians 4:12-13:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Tucked neatly in Paul's encouragement and thanksgiving for the Philippian church and their generosity is the mention that his circumstances have taught him a vital lesson—contentment. What seems so elusive to us here in the West was attained by Paul. We too can learn this "secret" which impacted him.
In what circumstances did Paul learn contentment? We often forget that Paul learned contentment both in times of frustration and in times of favor. When Paul was brought low, was hungry, and was in need, he learned to be content. In times of abounding, having plenty, and experiencing abundance, Paul also learned contentment. It was "in any and every circumstance" that Paul learned the "secret" of contentment. For a culture stricken with affluenza—extreme discontentment, malaise, and distress due to the pursuit of success and wealth—the gospel is the only cure.
The Symptoms of Affluent Discontentment
Before we get to the cure, it's necessary to point to some of the symptoms of discontentment that plague the successful or affluent:
- excessive spending
- continual dissatisfaction with work
- grumbling and complaining
- apathy and malaise regarding life in general
- envy of others' possessions
For those who require a more spiritual list, we see:
- being hyper-critical of your local church
- dressing up complaints with spiritual jargon
- irritability when things don't look as they should
- lack of joy
- inability to rest
If the Holy Spirit taught Paul contentment in any and every circumstance, He can do the same in us. When I'm tempted to despair of the discontentment in my heart, I remember that the source of Paul's contentment was Christ. He learned contentment by forsaking his strength and entrusting all things to Christ who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). Rather than developing stoicism or willpower, Paul leaned on Jesus in his weakness. By grace, we can do this too!
The Cure for Affluent Discontentment
How do we cultivate Christ-centered contentment when things are going well?
Remember how you got here. When we are abounding, reliance on God can fade into the background. We get used to the daily bread, good grades, promotions, positive behavior of our children, or successful daily devotions. When comfort becomes the norm, we can subtly slip into thinking that it was by our intellect, athletic prowess, personal charm, or work ethic that we have found success. This is all futile. The God who created the world gave us this success, and He deserves the credit for even the smallest morsel.
Rely on Christ daily for strength. One of the greatest daily habits we can build is asking God for help with what we think we can do on our own. Jesus meant it when He said, "apart from me you can do nothing". We are in grave danger of dethroning God in our hearts and placing ourselves or others in His place—especially in seasons of affluence and success.
Rest in Christ's finished work. Too often our cravings for success stem from a heart that desires approval before God and men. Since hard work often leads to success and approval, and success and approval lead us to work harder, we endlessly work harder to achieve more success and approval. The cycle either continues or we burn out. Rather than living in this hamster wheel, we need to search our hearts and ask whether we truly believe Christ did enough. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions: Did Christ truly earn God's approval for us? Or do we need to add our work to His work?
Rehearse the gospel daily. In light of resting in Christ, we need to meditate daily on the gospel. We need to remind ourselves that apart from God's grace we are sinful enemies of God. It is only by His grace that we have been freed from sin and given the spiritual gifts we desire to steward well. When we succeed with those gifts, we need to be reminded that it's through God's grace we are able to do anything.
Reflect the glory of God in your words and actions. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, our success should always aim to give Him glory. When we are thriving, we have the opportunity to point to Christ. The accolades and rewards that were once mountains to conquer become platforms that we can use to reflect glory back to God.
No Direct Flights
When I travel, I love direct flights with no layovers. Sometimes this either isn't possible or simply isn't cost effective. When considering contentment, I can see that there is no direct flight between success and contentment. Honestly, the seasons that I find success are often the seasons that I am the most discontent. In those moments, I need God to say, "take care lest you forget the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 8:11).
Through meditating on scripture and seeing the example of successful godly people, I've realized that most content people are those who know Christ—not themselves—as the source of every success.
A version of this article originally appeared at For The Church.
I often wonder how I can wake up in the morning and not give God a second thought.
On so many mornings, I feel a gravitational pull to reach for something, anything, but God. Email, music, social media, sports, blogs, and news can’t seem to wait, even though they are infinitely tiny compared to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Worse yet, they eclipse God, numb me to spiritual reality, and set the tone for the whole day. My body may be awake on these days, but what about my soul?
The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places never take a day off. Neither can we. Self-righteousness lurks in the shadows of a victorious social media debate while gossip pursues as I describe the flaws of others. Anger pulls up next to me as I come to a screeching halt and spill coffee in my lap. I know this is true, but sometimes I’m unaffected by these realities.
Each day we are battling not only the schemes of the devil but also the world and the flesh. As soldiers sleep with one eye open, so must the child of God. We don’t have the option to walk in a drowsy stupor as though we are lounging at the beach on vacation. Rather, we are like the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy — ready to bring utter destruction to our sin.
Keep Your Heart with God
How does God call us to live in light of the reality of spiritual warfare? His word is clear: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). One of the most important, and neglected, duties of the Christian is to be watchful. Puritan John Flavel aptly stated that “the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.”
To be watchful is to slow down and take notice of our hearts in light of God’s word and the gospel. God calls time and time again for us to watch carefully over our souls so we won’t fall into sin. He knows that our flesh is weak, so he exhorts us to sit day and night at the gates of wisdom, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our souls and reveal our need for his grace. He knows that in the moments that we look away from Christ, we are like David whose heart was sinfully captured by the beauty of Bathsheba. The call to keep our hearts is the call to zealous care for the most precious part of who we are.
Watchfulness in the WordIt’s easy to find watchfulness throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that the Israelites were commanded to watch themselves closely so they wouldn’t fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:15). In the Psalms, we get a glimpse of a watchful heart seeking after the Lord (Psalm 5:3; 59:9; 119:148). In Proverbs, the wise man watches daily at the doors and gates of wisdom (Proverbs 8:34).
In the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to “watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), to be watchful for the Bridegroom to return (Matthew 25:13), to be watchful, awake, and prayerful in these last days (Luke 21:34–36).
In Paul’s epistles, saints are called to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstruct the gospel message (Romans 16:17), to be watchful and take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12; 16:13), to watch against falling into sin while helping a brother in transgression (Galatians 6:1), and to be watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2). Peter calls for believers to be watchful because Satan is prowling and desiring to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).
All of this talk about watchfulness can conjure up images of exhausting legalism. It sounds so puritanical, doesn’t it? I can hear groans from the crowd, “I thought we were free in Christ? Won’t excessive watchfulness negate grace and rob us of our joy? I don’t want to be overly introspective. That’s depressing!”
Jesus has an answer for these groans. His Father is glorified when we bear much fruit, and fruitfulness brings us fullness of joy (John 15:8–11). By abiding in him and receiving grace, we have help to keep our hearts with vigilance. But what does that look like?
First, we abide in Christ. If apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), then we must do everything with him and in his power, acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. This could be as simple as praying, “By grace, I’m both a sinner and a saint. Lord, give me the strength I need to glorify you in this moment and the rest of this day.” As we humbly acknowledge our reliance on Christ, we will find ourselves leaning into his strength in times of temptation and trials.
Second, we regularly examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you seek your own kingdom? Is there sin you refuse to repent of? Are you looking to Christ with faith? To prevent morbid introspection, we would do well to heed the advice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and take ten looks at Christ for every look we take at ourselves.
Third, we follow God’s word. Jesus didn’t pull out his Bible when Satan tempted him. He quoted the Scripture, in context, directly from his mind. We need to commit to more than just reading our Bibles. If we slow down and memorize God’s word, we can take it with us everywhere we go. As we are meditating on and applying the Scriptures, we are being shaped and led by the Spirit of God.
Lastly, we walk with the saints. We are not vigilant by ourselves or for ourselves. We are the body of Christ. As members, we should certainly watch over our own hearts and be aware of sin that could lead us to fall away from God, but we also need to love the Christians in our lives enough to warn them when we see them falling into sin. It’s easy to build and maintain superficial friendships, yet it’s more valuable to be accountable to other believers who are willing (and not afraid) to push us toward godliness daily.
Starting in the Morning
Though I haven’t mastered the art of keeping my heart, God used a season of anxiety, depression, and suffering to open my eyes to this great need. Each morning is still a battle. I don’t win the battle every time, but I’m much more aware of what is at stake.
As the Spirit works in me to make me more Christlike, I keep fighting and watching with more zeal and vigilance. Keeping our hearts is costly, but we fight with the strength of the One who transforms them.
This article first appeared at desiringgod.org.
"Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)."
I'm torn between two friends.
One friend is “anti-woke”. He throws around terms like "cultural Marxist" and social justice warrior (SJW) but doesn't define them in a way I can understand. He denies any sort of privilege in society and got upset when Albert Mohler released the "Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary". He told me that white people didn't need to apologize today for sins they didn’t commit in the past. That’s just “white guilt”—a social justice tactic. When white preachers used their platform to call their white church members to search themselves and their churches to eradicate racism, I was told that they were "virtue signaling" and simply appeasing SJWs.
When white Christians explained "white privilege" (another social justice term) and told their churches how to think through it, my friend told me that those preachers had gone off the deep end into liberalism and the social gospel. He kept arguing that I would eventually fall away from the gospel and into the same social gospel if I believed white people generally have it easier in society. Rather than acknowledge my fidelity to the gospel and desire for doctrinal precision, he just keeps saying that I’m going to start accepting homosexuality, transgenderism, and then deny the authority of scripture.
My other friend wears the “woke” badge proudly and gets up in arms anytime I talk about the Reformers and Puritans because they owned slaves. He says he doesn’t feel comfortable in "majority culture" (white) contexts and generally believes that white Christians don't want black leaders in their churches. When I wrote about my concerns with leaving evangelicalism and the dangers that might come with it, he said I devalued the black church. He thinks I shouldn't speak on behalf of black Christians because I'm not in a black context nor would I be able to survive in one.
To him, I'm too much like Carlton Banks and mainly serve as the "token" anywhere that I go. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was mad at “white evangelicals”. To him, this was a major problem and when I attested that many of my white evangelical friends didn’t vote for Trump, he said I was blind to the facts. When "whiteness" was deemed as inherently evil and something that needed to be repented of, he made it clear that black people just need to give up trying to find a way in evangelicalism or bridge the racial divide that still exists. In his eyes, white Christians don't want to submit to black leadership, so why keep trying? Why keep writing books? Why keep attending conferences? Shouldn't black Christians just do their own thing?
You see what I mean? Both of my friends say some good stuff. They both proclaim the gospel and both desire God’s justice to be seen in the world. They both desire God’s glory in the local church and for it to spread abroad through global missions.
They both also say some things that I disagree with. They both accuse the other of losing the gospel. They both argue that their side is the biblically correct way and that the other way has always caused damage to the church. They both make exclusive claims that their method properly lives out the implications of the gospel.
Various Takes on Being “Woke”
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "woke" means "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)". In street terms, it means seeing what’s really going on behind the facade presented by history books, news, and media sources. It’s often a term of endearment for those who are socially conscious.
In his book Woke Church, Eric Mason says of wokeness, that “if you have a level of understanding of the double consciousness of blacks and are regenerate, you are woke.” He adds to the dictionary definition the requirement of regeneration. In other words, to be truly woke in Mason’s eyes, means to be a believer who understands that black people are conscious of both being American and being black. For him, these consciousnesses are connected and yet often at odds with one another.
The anti-woke side is mostly white evangelicals (a term I sought to define here). To avoid over-generalizing, I see several black believers on this side as well. The other side is mostly black evangelicals. Again, to avoid generalization, this side has picked up many white proponents and several of the black people on this side have disassociated themselves with evangelicalism or the reformed movement. One side makes theological precision and biblical integrity their focus. This is very good! The other side seeks to apply the rich, gospel-centered theology they hold. This too is wonderful!
The anti-woke side guards against the use of secular sociological terms and theories such as social justice, intersectionality, or critical race theory when interpreting scripture. This caution is wise. The woke side seems to embrace (or at least not fear) these theories as they look at society and seek to live in light of the implications of the gospel. Their desire to apply the gospel in society is admirable.
As Trevin Wax recently stated, these two groups "would do well to articulate the real dangers of their own side (quietism and social apathy in some circles, and ideological compromise and theological liberalism in others)". As I think through these issues, I’m seeking to do the same. I see positive and negative on both sides, and I don’t find myself clearly landing totally on one side or the other in the discussion on race. I am, however, committed to the gospel and sound doctrine. I consider myself reformed and would likely fall within the definition of evangelical (when the term is used religiously and not politically).
Am I too woke because I see the effects of racism in the church? Am I in danger of falling into old liberalism and the social gospel because I see that (in general) my white Christian friends have privileges in society that I don't have? Am I just race-baiting because it seems that my race hinders ministry opportunities in rural Kentucky? Am I leaving my reformed theology and commitment to Scripture and sound doctrine behind because I acknowledge partiality on a large scale in our society?
I am searching myself to see if my observations are true. If I'm too woke to be biblical, I need to repent. I need to run back to the cross, and I need to set my eyes back on the Savior who transforms me into His image from "one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).
Not "woke" enough
Am I not woke enough because I love the white Christians that I do life with each week? Am I not woke enough because fighting perceived racism with isolation from white evangelicals doesn't seem to be the solution? Am I diminishing the value of Christians of color because I want to see more black Christians in churches like mine? Is my reformed theology and biblical commitment blinding me to the realities of racism and its effects on the church? Should I leave evangelicalism and reformed theology behind altogether?
Again, I am searching myself to see whether I am blind to sin that I need to see in my heart and the church I am a part of. If we are ignoring or coddling sin, we need to repent. Jesus is the only answer.
Awake in Christ
Being awake to the gospel and its implications is far greater than any secular term we could embrace or Christianize. Every Christian who has believed the gospel is heeding the call of Ephesians 5:14–21. When God called out “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”, the Spirit brought regeneration and woke up our dead souls. We were awakened in Christ and given spiritual senses. In Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson describes this as “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly” than all else.
The implications are life-changing. We all must search ourselves for evidence of this Spirit-wrought change in our hearts. Those who are awake in Christ are called to:
Is There Room For Each Other?
Can I see and discuss issues of partiality without being a social justice warrior and yet not disparage reformed or evangelical Christianity without being considered a Sambo (a sellout)? I think so. Can there be "woke" Christians? Yes, if “wokeness” means striving to see the realities of injustice in society—especially if being actively aware of these issues helps us love our neighbors in all circumstances.
Should there be fears about the social justice movement in our culture? Definitely, since the movement is pushing for unbiblical ideals and theories regarding race, class, gender, or sexuality. If the world is entering the church, God’s undershepherds must guard the sheep against wolves. Is God able to keep us faithful to His unchanging Word while also helping us love our neighbors? He is able to do that and far more than we can even ask or think.
Having sound theology without loving one another makes us academic. Having love for one another without sound doctrine makes us activists. In Christ, believers were recreated for far more. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are called to be perfectly one with one another (John 17:23). We are called to be salt, light, cities on a hill, and a picture of Jesus for a dying world! Shame on us if our disunity causes God's name to be dishonored among the Gentiles.
This doesn't mean unity for unity's sake. It doesn't mean that we won't have disagreements. It means that we find unity in the Savior and the message God has spoken through Him. Though our applications and methods may differ—and could even be wrong—we can be united as we discuss justice and the gospel.
As I navigate these challenging waters, I remember that I have the mind of Christ. In Christ, I can:
1. Pursue unity of mind with other believers (Phil 2:1-2). I need to strive to be of the same mind with them, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. This means not always commenting on a tweet I disagree with, not doubting others' salvation due to secondary differences, refusing to gossip about brothers and sisters with whom I disagree, and actively seeking to discuss and encourage them in the things that are essential to our faith in Christ.
2. Count others as more significant than myself (Phil 2:3). I need to refuse to belittle people in their disagreements with me. Even if I am right and they seem to be totally wrong, this will still allow me to value my brother and sister while humbly denying myself. This will lead to fewer arguments, disrespect, and anger in my own heart. This will also lead me to consider their arguments rather than writing them off and immediately coming with my own conclusions.
3. Look to the interests of others rather than myself (Phil. 2:4). Sometimes I’ll agree with someone my closest friends disagree with. It means that when a brother or sister shares their struggles, I can listen without being disinterested. Even if I disagree with their interpretation of the struggle or the terminology they use to describe it, I can listen lovingly and intently. Too often, I form and share an opinion in real-time rather than taking time to hear both sides or even care about the fact that someone is suffering. In a culture of microwave reactions, a godly response may be the crockpot method of patient and persistent prayer for clarity as I listen to those I disagree with.
I am not without hope in this situation. I pray that we would take more time to sit around a bonfire, sip some coffee, or shoot some hoops rather than argue online. As we’ve already seen, no blog post, 280-word tweet, Facebook status, or Youtube live video can do justice to this entire situation. These "friends" I spoke of do not represent specific individuals or every thought on the spectrum of this discussion. These observations are a culmination of conversations I have had with people, seen on social media, heard in sermons, or read in blog posts. I have friends all along the spectrum. I love those people, and I am truly praying for both clarity and unity in this situation.
Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).
Are you displaying the love of Christ to the watching world?