Talking to Myself

What does Paul mean in Ephesians 5:19 when he writes of “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (NASB)? If that is one of the ways that Christians are to keep on walking under the influence of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), does it mean that we are to go around serenading each other with Great Is Thy Faithfulness or quoting Psalm 119 in every conversation? Regardless of how you might distinguish between psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, what in the world does it mean to speak to one another in this way?

The New American Standard version has a footnote on the words “one another,” which says “Or yourselves“. And when I looked it up, the Greek word is not the usual one that is translated “one another,” but is a different word that is translated in either singular or plural as “himself” or “oneself” or “yourselves” or “themselves” (among others). On the surface that doesn’t seem like a huge difference from “one another,” but as I thought about it, it could actually be very different.

The implied subject in that paragraph of Ephesians 5 is a plural “you.” Paul is writing to the Christians in Ephesus, not just to an individual. So if he’s saying to a group of believers, “Speak to yourselves…” it could be understood in two different ways. It could be understood as speaking to one another (You speak to me and I speak to you). But it could also be understood as each of us speaking to ourselves (You speak to yourself and I speak to myself). And that would be a very different understanding.

Certainly we know from other Scriptures that we are to “encourage one another” (I Thes. 5:11) and “speak truth to one another” (Eph. 4:25), so speaking to one another in psalms and hymns could definitely be another way in which we show that kind of love to one another. But is it possible that Paul is also saying here that we need to speak those things to our own hearts?

Perhaps what this verse is telling us is that we are to do like the psalmist himself does–remind our own heart of what is true. Do I ever say to my own soul “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God…” (Ps. 42 & 43) or “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Ps. 103 & 104) or “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence…” (Ps. 62)? My heart needs those reminders, and maybe those are some of the very psalms that Paul had in mind that we are to speak to our hearts.

So rather than thinking of this verse as a call to sing all our conversations with one another–as if in a musical–maybe we need to see it as an invitation to speak to our own hearts the truths that we so easily forget. And because we forget so easily, the words of songs and psalms help those truths stick a little better. So in the words of Kari Jobe (in a “spiritual song” called Love Came Down):

If the storms of life they come
And the road ahead gets steep
I will lift these hands in faith
I will believe
I’ll remind myself
Of all that you’ve done
And the life I have
Because of your son
Love came down and rescued me
Love came down and set me free
I am yours
Lord I’m forever yours
Mountains high or valley low
I sing out and remind my soul
I am yours
I am forever yours

A Daily Prayer…in Song

Songs are powerful. As my friend Ian put it, songs “sneak into your subconscious and lie in wait in the trenches of your memory.” In our happiest moments, and our darkest hours, music ministers to our hearts like nothing else can.

And so I was delighted when another friend (Thanks Terry!) introduced me to a song called A Christian’s Daily Prayer. A beautiful prayer of trust put to music–I’ve already memorized more of this prayer (without trying!) than any of the prayers I have written out and prayed repeatedly. What a blessing!

The lyrics express a morning, midday and evening prayer of need and trust in the powerful presence of our sovereign God:

As morning dawns and day awakes, 
To You I bring my need 
O gracious God, my source of strength, 
In You I live and breathe 
Each hour is Yours by wisdom planned, 
Each deed empowered by sovereign hands 
Renew my spirit, help me stand; 
Be glorified today 

As day unfolds, I seek Your will 
In all of life’s demands  
And though the tempter tries me still, 
I cling to Your commands 
Let every effort of my life 
Display the matchless worth of Christ 
Make me a living sacrifice; 
Be glorified today 

As sun gives way to darkest night 
Your Spirit still is here 
And though my strength fades like the light 
New mercies will appear 
I rest in You; abide with me 
Until our trials and suffering 
Give way to final victory 
Be glorified, today

I rest in You; abide with me 
Until our trials and suffering 
Give way to final victory 
Be glorified, today; be glorified, I pray*

I especially appreciate the final verse. Evening and night are often when the darkness of despair drains me of rest and hope, so I need the reminder that new mercies appear in my weakest moments. Even more so, I need to hear the despair-defying declaration that the trials I am experiencing will one day give way to Christ’s final victory, when all things are finally and fully made new!

God, be glorified today, as the words of this prayerful song echo in my mind and heart.


*Music and Words by Matt Merker, Jordan Kauflin, and Dave Fournier
© 2017 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

The Cost of Productivity

I’m a fan of productivity. Certainly God has not called us to live lazy, unproductive lives. Rather, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, emphasis added).

But as with any good thing, productivity out of balance with relationship or rest can become detrimental to what God says matters most–love of God and neighbor. Sadly, Christian culture can be just as wrapped up in the drive to do more (and do faster, and do better, etc.) as the culture around us, and there is a serious cost to that preoccupation with productivity.

So these words of J.I. Packer–who has walked with God for many years–should be considered carefully:

“For the Christian, the outward journey takes the form of learning to relate positively and purposefully to the world and other people–that is, to all God’s creatures–for God the Creator’s sake, and the inward journey takes the form of gaining and deepening our acquaintance with God the Father and with Jesus the Son, through the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit.

“Now in the hustling, bustling West today, life has become radically unbalanced, with education, business interests, the media, the knowledge explosion, and our go-getting community ethos all uniting to send folk off on the outward journey as fast as they can go and with that to distract them from ever bothering about its inward counterpart. In Western Christianity the story is the same, so that most of us without realizing it are nowadays unbalanced activists, conforming most unhappily in this respect to the world around us. Like the Pharisees, who were also great activists (see Matt. 23:15!), we are found to be harsh and legalistic, living busy, complacent lives of conforming to convention and caring much more, as it seems, for programs than for people. When we accuse businessmen of selling their souls to their firms and sacrificing their integrity on the altars of their organizations, it is the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps there are no truths about the Spirit that Christian people more urgently need to learn today than those that relate to the inner life of fellowship with God, that life which I call the inward journey.”     [J.I. Packer, Keep In Step with the Spirit, pg 68-69]

Toward that much-needed end of “gaining and deepening our acquaintance with God,” I have found regular days of solitude retreat to be tremendously helpful. For those who are a part of the church that I serve (as well as for those who live in the Southern California area), I lead several half-day retreats during the year–you can find information about them (or register to attend) on my church website.

Consider Your Ways

Twice in Haggai chapter one, the word of the Lord through the prophet Haggai is “Consider your ways.” The first time (in verse 5), God is instructing His people to consider what has been happening in their lives–to wake up to the reality of the emptiness of their condition. They are to look carefully at what is going on, in order to see what is broken and in need of change. Then when God again says “Consider your ways” (in verse 7), He follows that with an exhortation to do whatever they can to deal with the brokenness of their current situation, and He promises His presence–that He will bring about the change as they takes steps of obedience.

Considering our ways is something that should be happening all throughout the year, but it is especially appropriate at the beginning of a new year. And what God says through the prophet Haggai gives us something more to work with than merely generating a random list of New Year’s resolutions. We would do well to first consider what is broken or empty or ineffective in our lives, and then consider what God is calling us to do to address those areas of brokenness or need. But that whole process must be anchored in the reality that God is present with us, and He alone brings lasting change in our hearts and our circumstances.

Toward that end, I discovered an excellent list of questions to help us consider our ways as we think through the year to come. These are from Don Whitney, an author and professor in Louisville, Kentucky.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

You can read his whole article here. I was especially challenged by the first question–that is not one I have ever considered as I think about goals each year. May you also be challenged to consider your ways in this year ahead…



The Significance of Small Growth

When your New Year isn’t so Happy or your Christmas wasn’t so Merry, when depression robs your resolve to even consider crafting goals for a new season, when lonely “tears have been [your] food day and night” (Psalm 42:3) and it feels like nothing will ever change, may you be reminded that God’s work in you is surely moving forward, though it is often a very slow and unseen process.

A short article I read a few days ago, from David Powlison of CCEF, was an encouraging reminder to me as I struggle to find joy in the start of a new year. May these words bring perspective and encouragement to your heart as well…

One of the most important things we can ever learn is the significance of small growth—small steps in the right direction. 1 John 3:2 gives a pithy description of our growth process—we are not yet what we will become, but when we see the Lord face to face, we will be like Him. In other words, the Christian life now is not about reaching our destination. The real question is, are we heading in the right direction?

I have been a Christian for 42 years and a biblical counselor for most of that time. Understanding small growth has helped me personally and in ministry.

If you don’t have a category for small growth, you won’t recognize the way that our Father works on an issue over longer seasons of life. For example, during the first seven or eight years of being a Christian, the Lord patiently and consistently worked on my struggle with anxiety. I learned from many different angles, step by step, over and over, that each day’s trouble really is sufficient for that day. I learned that anxiety projects into the future, but God meets us in the present. I learned that God’s grace gives courage and clarity in whatever we must face.

As you struggle with sin over a longer period of time, God accomplishes two important things. First, he makes you more and more like Christ in even the smallest of ways. Second, he grants you greater wisdom to help others. You learn to avoid the pitfall of offering trite and formulaic counsel to someone who genuinely wants help but consistently struggles with the same issue.

In a different season of my life, God revealed weaknesses I had that corresponded to my gifts. I tend to be intellectual; I can make sense of people’s lives. My natural stance toward people or problems is to be analytical and to be a consultant. Over a number of years in ministry, and in everyday life, I learned to be more than just a person who could figure things out. I learned how to really care for people. Consultants hold people at arm’s length. Helpers enter in to someone’s troubles and seek to orient that person to Jesus. Noticing what is wrong is easy for me. Learning how to help someone become what is right is much harder work.

What process am I writing about here? The term is “progressive sanctification.” What does that mean? Through lifelong growth, we begin to think, and feel, and choose, and respond in ways that are more and more like Jesus over months and years. God works in seasons as well as in moments. Our Father is a Vinedresser who patiently works in our lives to make us fruitful. I hope that encourages you. It has deeply encouraged me as a biblical counselor. I have learned to truly rejoice in even the smallest of steps. I notice how the Spirit is at work in ways that a person I am helping might not even be aware. For example, sometimes the beauty of a person’s faith is found in the willingness to more quickly ask for forgiveness and help. Sometimes a person simply grows in patience and hope, without consciously trying to do so. The Holy Spirit works in both the conscious changes we made and the subtle growth we only recognize in retrospect.

You can read the whole article here.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)


Hope of Glory

Another Christmas has come and gone. Another New Year is upon us. What gives us hope  for all that is ahead of us?

In Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 3-4, the apostle Paul speaks of finding hope in the glory that awaits us as Christians. He knows that suffering is not the end of the story, rather the end that we await is glory. Conceptually, I know that to be true. But in my everyday existence and struggle, I don’t think of future glory as being the source of my hope.

My functional hope is much more shortsighted than future glory. I hope in the goals and plans I make for the new year. I hope in relationships changing. I hope in circumstances improving. I hope in my own slow growth toward maturity in Christ.

But those are all hopes that are bound to fail or fade. I know all too well that my goals and plans often don’t materialize. I experience the frustration of relationships that seem like they will never change (and indeed, they may not change). I live in a sinful, broken world in which circumstances don’t always work out the way we desire. I wrestle with the ugliness of my own sinful flesh that constantly wars against my growth in Christ.

Romans 8:21 says hope is found in the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The glory that awaits me as a Christian is not just that the things that are wrong here will be fixed or patched up. No, the glory that awaits is that the whole process of decay and corruption will be no more—and instead all things will be made new and there will be no more bondage to corruption.

For Christians, that process of being made new is already happening. In fact, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). So the future glory and freedom that we await is beginning now and will one day be finally made complete. That is an incredible hope!!

To be finally free from a world where everything is broken and keeps breaking down—to be finally free from bodies that are decaying—to be finally free from the corruption of our own hearts that continually pulls us away from God…that is the glory that awaits us! And this is not a glory that merely pulls us out of the bondage of decay into some kind of disembodied state, but it is the glory of a whole new reality: a new world, a new body, a new heart. What a glory that will be!

So brother or sister in Christ, this is your hope, as it is my hope. As this new year begins, may we be reminded that “Christ in you” IS “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

The Beginning of Humility

I love hearing new verses to Christmas carols, whether they are simply new to me (I’ve never heard them before) or whether they are modern additions to the traditional hymns. A few years ago, Sovereign Grace Music put together a new rendition of O Holy Night, and the second verse is very thought-provoking:

Humbly He lay, Creator come as creature, 
Born on the floor of a hay-scattered stall. 
True Son of God, yet bearing human feature, 
He entered earth to reverse Adam’s fall. 
In towering grace, He laid aside His glory, 
And in our place, was sacrificed for sin. 
Fall on your knees! O hear the gospel story! 
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!

Creator come as creature“–how amazing is that?! Philippians 2:5-8 speaks of the humility of Jesus in emptying Himself to enter human form. Jesus emptied Himself “by taking the form of a bondservant,” and He emptied Himself by “being born in the likeness of men” (vs. 7). I usually think of that in terms of the humility it took for the Son of God to become a Son of man, but as I was reflecting on those verses this Christmas season, it struck me that simply being born was a huge act of humility. The eternal Son of God being formed in a womb and pushed through a birth canal and emerging helpless and tiny into a human family–how can that be?!

Yet when I ponder the Philippians 2 passage, it seems that there is something that precedes the humility of emptying and being born. Verse 6 says that even though Jesus existed “in the form of God,” He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” There perhaps is the beginning of humility: an attitude or mindset of not holding on to privilege or power.

Certainly humility is found in Jesus’ birth (vs. 7), as well as in His death (vs. 8), but before either of those took place, there was a humility in His attitude–in His willingness to lay aside His power and glory rather than considering them something “to be grasped” (vs. 6). And that is the very “mind” or attitude that we as followers of Jesus are to have among ourselves (vs. 5).

My starting place is not “equality with God,” so my humility will never be as great as Jesus’ humility. But I do have plenty of privileges and power that I am very reluctant to release. As a husband, I want my work and sacrifice to be acknowledged and validated. As a pastor, I desire that my gifts and contributions are appreciated. As a father, I expect that my directions are obeyed. There is nothing inherently sinful about those desires, but those are the things that I must also lay aside in order to, in a small way, reflect the humility of Jesus.

But for me also, like Christ, the beginning of humility is not the act of laying aside, but the mindset of not counting those things as something to be grasped. So this Christmas as we celebrate Christ’s incredible humility in being born, may we discover something more of the birthplace of that humility by asking God to give us attitudes like His Son.