Praising God In The Troughs

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God! 

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.

What Christians Believe (book review)

C.S. Lewis remains my all-time favorite author. His ability to explain concepts of theology is unparalleled in both his own time and into modern times. What Christians Believe is a classic case in point. 

During World War II, the BBC was looking for something both inspirational and educational to carry on their airwaves to the British troops abroad and the war-weary British citizens on the home front. They discovered a little-known professor of literature that presented something so fresh and revitalizing that his notoriety immediately skyrocketed throughout England! Part of what he presented as a series of audio essays for the BBC is captured in this book What Christians Believe

One of the things I enjoy about Lewis is his ability to simplify complex topics without feeling like he is “talking down” to you. What theologians had made so complex and out-of-reach to many of the uneducated, Lewis made accessible to a vast audience.

If you have a friend or family member that has asked you about your Christian faith, but doesn’t see to “get it” when you explain it, the short essays in this book may be just the thing to get the conversation started again. Better yet: read the chapters along with them and then get together for a time of discussion. I think you will be pleased with the doors that C.S. Lewis may open for deeper understanding and more productive conversations about your Christian faith. 

A Hideous Strength

“…Come, let us face each other in battle” (2 Kings 14:8). 

Based on Amaziah’s request and Jehoash’s unusual parable-based response, it appears that this is the chronology of what happened:

  • Amaziah requests that Jehoash give him one of his daughters in marriage
  • Jehoash refuses
  • Amaziah attacks and defeats Edom 
  • Amaziah, feeling very proud of himself, then repeats his request to Jehoash, who again refuses
  • Amaziah begins to muster his troops to attack Jehoash and Israel
  • Jehoash defeats in Amaziah battle

Jehoash correctly diagnosed Amaziah: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home” (v. 10). 

Pride makes us think we are better than we are. Pride leads us to believe that we are owed something more. Pride comes before a fall. 

Amaziah’s pride had an expensive price tag:

  • he lost the battle
  • the walls around Jerusalem were torn down
  • the temple at Jerusalem was plundered
  • he was assassinated by his own military leaders

Pride is a hideous strength because it is a deceptive and short-lived strength.

C.S. Lewis described pride so well: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. … Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride. … Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” —C.S. Lewis 

Oh my! We must pray: “Holy Spirit, help me guard my heart against this propensity to pride. Yes, a victory can lead to pride and a false sense of strength, but it is a hideously deceptive strength. Please remind me that: 

  • victory makes me susceptible to pride 
  • pride makes me think I’m better (stronger, more impressive, more spiritual) than I really am 
  • this hideously deceptive vice makes me forget to remain dependent on God 
  • the dependence on myself makes me vulnerable to attack and defeat.” 

Don’t let Pride be your undoing, as it was for Amaziah. 

History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

Not Shaken

“Anyone have a nice, neat, organized life that never gets rocked by anything unexpected?” he asked, not expecting anyone to answer. Let’s be honest: There’s a whole lot of shaking going on!  Not just now, but it’s always been this way. Even in 1000 BC when David wrote Psalm 62. 

Let me walk you through this psalm and offer a couple of observations. 

In the first two verses, David’s declaration sounds very religious. It sounds like what he’s supposed to say in difficult times. Yet some doubt is obviously creeping in because David refers to himself as a leaning wall and a tottering fence. It’s here that David has his first Selah pause. 

Selah—pause and calmly consider what’s happening. “If God is really such a strong rock and fortress, could bad guys really slip by Him? Is it likely that they could be trying to knock me over without God knowing about it?” Of course not! God knows exactly what is happening to me, and He’s allowed it to happen for a reason.  

After pausing to consider this, David makes a statement that sounds like he’s repeating the first verse. But notice that this time David is talking to himself: “I don’t believe God is my refuge just because my parents believed it, or just because it sounds religious. I declare it because it is true!” It’s good to preach the Word of God to our shaking souls! 

Verse 6 is a word-for-word repeat of verse 2 with one minor exception. Look at it in the NKJV: “I shall not be greatly moved” (v. 2). This means that in David’s mind there is still a possibility of getting knocked over. But then in verse 6: “I shall not be moved” has no qualifiers. Or as Matthew Henry commented, “I may be shocked, but I shall not be sunk.” 

After making the declarations of verses 1-2 his own in verses 5-6, David can no longer be called a hypocrite when he now encourages others to declare God’s salvation for themselves (vv. 7, 8). Then he invites everyone to Selah again, this time to weigh the Rock of God with the ways of men. He declares that mankind and his plans are only a breath, not even close to the weightiness of God! 

The word alone” dominates the first eight verses of this psalm. David is emphasizing that God alone is our refuge. As Augustine wrote, “God, You arouse us so that praising You may bring us joy, for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” And C.S. Lewis added, “So few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.” 

Sometimes God allows unrest or disquiet SO THAT we will rediscover our rest and quiet in Him alone. 

During times of shaking, David calls us twice to Selah pause to reach the same conclusion he has reached—

  • Nothing is stronger than our God
  • No one is more loving than our God

You can stand firm on a God that is powerful enough to help, and loving enough to want to help. HE ALONE is our security! Let times of shaking reveal to you the flimsy supports of this world that you may have come to rely on, and then run to THE strongest, most loving place possible: God’s presence! 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in our Selah series, you can find the complete list of them by clicking here. 

Philosophical Thoughts (book review)

C.S. Lewis once quipped, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” And there are very few people that have presented what I would call “good philosophy” like Lewis himself. The collection called Philosophical Thoughts is a prime example. 

Certainly, many of Lewis’ books would fall into the category of philosophy, or at the very minimum contain overt philosophical elements. This collection was different than many of his books because of the wide range of topics explored. Not only the topics but the “source material” as well. By that I mean, sometimes Lewis’ words are in the form of a conversation he had with a friend, some are from lectures he gave, and one is even Lewis sharing a very lucid dream that he had. All of them challenged the paradigms of my thinking. 

The word philosophy is a combination of two loanwords from Greek: philo and sophia. “Philo” is the love and appreciation of something, and “sophia” is wisdom. Have you ever heard the phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good”? That is the exact opposite of the definition of sophia. Sophia is a lofty wisdom that is highly practical. This perfectly describes the pondering of C.S. Lewis: elevated thoughts that can be immediately applied to our daily lives. 

I don’t believe this collection is available as a written book, but that’s just fine because listening to the mellifluous voice of Englishman Ralph Cosham was sort of like sitting in Lewis’ study and listening to him speak. A very enjoyable experience indeed! 

Near Christianity

“The proclamation that Jesus died for our sins so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life is not, in fact, what C.S. Lewis referred to as mere Christianity—Christianity at its most basic. Rather, I would say that this message, which offers as its primary hope forgiveness and eternal life, and which offers these to all who merely profess belief in Jesus—this gospel which is roundly proclaimed in perhaps the vast majority of churches throughout the land—should be referred to as near Christianity.

“The Good News that Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed is a message so comprehensive, so altogether new and radical, that it requires deep-seated, heart-felt repentance, complete surrender to the risen Christ, and whole-hearted belief leading to obedience in every area of life. It is the message of the Kingdom of God.

“Anything other than the Gospel of the Kingdom is not the Gospel at all, but a form of near Christianity that holds out promises germane to the Kingdom, prescribes means related to the Kingdom, but holds back on making the full vision and demands of the Kingdom clear to those who would enjoy the conditions of blessedness.

“Such a message obscures the magnitude of God’s grace, minimizes the scope of Christ’s achievement, fails to nurture believers in the full obligations of Kingdom citizenship, and holds out a lesser hope—mere forgiveness and eternal life, rather than the glory of the living God.

“Near Christianity, therefore, produces little in the way of Kingdom evidence in the lives and churches of those who embrace it.” —T.M. Moore, in The Gospel of the Kingdom

(Check out some other quotes from The Gospel of the Kingdom by clicking here.)

10 Quotes From C.S. Lewis

Any day is a good day for some C.S. Lewis quotes! 

“To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” —C.S. Lewis 

“If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude,’ you will probably be disappointed.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” —C.S. Lewis 

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity.” —C.S. Lewis 

“The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Faith, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” —C.S. Lewis 

“And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” —C.S. Lewis 

“A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” —C.S. Lewis

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

Leaders Listen

“The moment you wake up each morning your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other Voice, letting that other, stronger, larger, quieter Life come flowing in.” —C.S. Lewis 

“God said, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Yes?’ answered Abraham. ‘I’m listening.’” —Genesis 22:1 

Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak. I’m Your servant, ready to listen.’” —1 Samuel 3:10 

“How much of God are we missing because we don’t stop to listen to the many voices God uses to speak to us?” —George Washington Carver 

“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” —Proverbs 18:13 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” —Winston Churchill

A mark of a godly leader is one who listens to the counsel of other godly leaders. 

“Wise, godly leaders know they must listen to the counsel of wise, godly leaders.” —Craig T. Owens 

“Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” —James 1:19 

“There are none so blind as those who will not see, none so deaf as those who will not hear, none so ignorant as those who will not listen… and none so foolish as those who think they can change those who will not see, hear, or listen.” —Warren Bennis

“Correct the wise, and they will love you.” —Proverbs 9:8 

“What is a great man who has made his mark upon history? … He is a man who has looked through the confusion of the moment and has seen the moral issue involved; he is a man who has refused to have his sense of justice distorted; he has listened to his conscience until conscience becomes a trumpet call to like-minded men, so that they gather about him, and together, with mutual purpose and mutual aid, they make a new period in history.” —Jane Addams, in a speech about George Washington 

“People don’t lose intimacy when they stop talking, but when they stop listening. Leaders seldom realize how much their listening empowers the other person. Because they are leaders, the sheer act of listening speaks volumes that even a great speech can’t communicate. …   

“A leader’s communication must be consistent, clear, and courteous. But leaders must also be good listeners. When leaders don’t listen: They stop gaining wisdom. … Leaders listen; leaders learn; and then leaders lead.” —John Maxwell 

This is part 43 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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