Learning Empathy

I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.  

In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!” 

The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.” 

In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself. 

Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end! 

Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).  

When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26). 

Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.” 

Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy. 

Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.” 

You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

Learning Contentment

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! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am. 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Discovering True Friends

Last week I shared that 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! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation. 

Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses: 

  • remembered (2x) 
  • mused (2x) 
  • thought 
  • inquired 

Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:

  • Will the Lord reject me forever? NO! 
  • Will He never show His favor again? NO!
  • Has His unfailing love vanished forever? NO!
  • Has His promise failed for all time? NO! 
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful? NO! 
  • Has He in anger withheld His compassion? NO! 

Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.

Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us. 

One lesson I learned in a very dark night time of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away. 

The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.

Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing. 

I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

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.

Thankful In The Night

The psalmist wrote, “Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8). 

Notice that the psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterward because of the lessons learned in that dark time. 

Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights. 

Join us this Sunday as we discover a lesson that will help us be thankful in the night. You can join us in person or on Facebook. 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series, you can watch the video or read the post here:

Our Joyful Burden

I shared last week that the judgment of God should be a cause for both fear and rejoicingboth regret and comfort—for those who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for those who have no relationship with God, the judgment of God is a cause for only fear and regret. 

How did Nahum respond to this word of judgment God spoke through him? His opening words say, “The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “burden” is almost always associated with a word God has spoken. It’s a realization of God’s weighty glory; it’s never, ever something we should trivialize! 

Prophets don’t just prophesy future events, they also announce in the present tense where people have departed from a lifestyle that robs God of His glory and how they can be forgiven of sins. 

“The prophets foretell (speak to what will happen in the future) and forth-tell (speak to what we should be doing in the present), both in the light of God’s heart for His own glory among all peoples of the world.” —Dick Brogden 

God never makes idle threats nor empty promises. Truly His Word is His bond. Through Nahum, God foretold that Assyria would be utterly destroyed, twice saying, “I am against you” (Nahum 2:13-3:7). 

The world may rejoice at God’s justice on evil (3:19), but how does God feel about carrying out His judgment? Ezekiel records God saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) 

And Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Bible shows that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. This is the message that must be both foretold and forth-told by Christians. 

“But what can I do,” you might ask. “I’m just one person. I’m not a big-time evangelist.” That sounds a lot like Nahum. He was just a guy from Elkosh—no special family lineage, no large city to claim as his home. 

God is looking for just one that will speak out His words (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Just one who will be humble enough to search their own heart first and then both boldly and lovingly deliver a message of both judgment and escape (Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:20). 

Foretelling God’s judgment is a burden. Forth-telling God’s forgiveness is a joy. All Christians have been given the joyful burden of this both-and ministry! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Fear And The Comfort Of God’s Judgment

Near the end of the movie The Princess Bride, the grandson learns that Wesley, the hero of the story, has apparently died. He asks his grandfather, “Who kills Prince Humperdink,” the arch-villain in the story. 

His grandfather replies, “No one. He lives.” 

“You mean he wins!?” blurts out the exasperated boy, “Grandpa, why did you read me this story??” 

We love to see bad guys get what’s coming to them, don’t we? Some of the baddest bad guys—perhaps in all of history—are the kings of Assyria. When the Assyrians in Nineveh repented and God’s judgment didn’t fall on them, Jonah’s response was much like the grandson in The Princess Bride, “God, why did You send me here?!” 

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who was threatening Judah. Nahum writes a short, scathing prophecy about the destruction that is headed Assyria’s way. This is fulfilled in a small part when God defeats Sennacherib’s army, which leads to Sennacherib then being assassinated by two of his sons.

For Judah, this is a short-lived victory because the two kings which follow Sennacherib turn out to be two of the evilest and ruthless kings of Assyria. Yet Nahum’s prophecy still stands: an ultimate destruction is coming. In 605 BC Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians, and the destruction was so complete that Nineveh’s very existence was questioned until archeological discoveries were made in the 19th century. 

Why is this prophecy given to us? What are we New Testament Christians supposed to do with this promise of judgment? 

Nahum’s name means comfort, so it seems like God’s justice should comfort us. But, interestingly, the root word of his name means to regret or to feel sorry

Why is this? Think about it: You cannot really know what peace is unless you have been through a period of turmoil. Likewise, you cannot truly understand the relief of being spared God’s judgment unless you fully understand the weight and totality of God’s judgment that should fall on you.  

Nahum reminds us that God will never let the guilty go unpunished, and yet in the very next breath he tells us that the Lord is a refuge for those who trust in Him.

God is Just. This is a cause for…

  • …BOTH fear of God’s anger AND rejoicing that He is good 
  • …BOTH humility for our sin AND confidence that He forgives our sin 
  • …BOTH regret that we fall short of God’s righteous standard AND relief that Christ’s blood makes us righteous in God’s sight 

It’s amazing to think that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was HIS love that allowed that to happen so that I could be forgiven! 

God is not willing that any should be separated from Him, but we do have to choose to receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us. 

Assyria’s utter destruction is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternal separation from God. As C.S. Lewis commented about the end of time: 

“For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” 

Today (and every day) is the day for heart-searching, acutely feeling the regret of our sin, and then knowing that our forgiven sins are forgotten sins! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Role Of Prophecy

Micah may be classified as a minor prophet, but the prophecies in his book are fulfilled in a major way in as little as 20 years and as far out as 2700+ years! 

Here’s a question for us to consider: What exactly is the role of prophecy in the life of a Christian? 

Micah introduces himself in the opening verse. He was ministering in the country while Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at the same time. Micah’s ministry spans three kings of Judah in the south, and he overlaps the defeat of Israel in the north.  

Check out some of Micah’s most notable prophecies: 

  1. Judgment is coming to Samaria/Israel (1:6-7). This was fulfilled about 20 years later when the Assyrians defeated Samaria and took the Israelites into exile. 
  2. Judgment is coming on southern Judah (1:9-16). This was fulfilled about 30 years later when Sennacherib attacked Philistia and southern Judah, coming “even to the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). At the gate of Jerusalem was the miraculous deliverance God gave during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 37). 
  3. Judgment is coming on Jerusalem (3:12). Micah even prophesied the Babylonians would defeat them (4:10). This is noteworthy because Assyria was the dominant world power at this time; it would be another 100 years before Babylon would even begin to rise to power. This prophecy was fulfilled about 160 years later, and this prophecy actually saved Jeremiah’s life around that same time (Jeremiah 26:7-19). 
  4. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled about 700 years later when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-6). 
  5. How people will respond to the Messiah’s Advent (7:4-6). This prophecy was partially fulfilled 700 years later in a direct quotation from Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36). 
  6. The coming of the final Kingdom of God (4:1-3). This prophecy will be fulfilled at Christ’s second Advent. 

[you can read all of these prophecies yourself by clicking here

So what is the role of prophecy? 

First of all, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that God is sovereignly in control of everything (Isaiah 46:10). But right on the heels of that, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that there is still more prophecy left to be fulfilled (2 Peter 1:20-2:3). 

The Bible tells me that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. In a similar fashion, the prophecies of coming judgment on sinners are intended to show us the incredible mercy of God in the forgiveness of sin that He made available (Micah 7:18-20). 

Prophecy is never, never to be used as a club to beat people into submission to God. When Micah prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah, he wept (Micah 1:8). 

So did Jesus (Matthew 23:37). 

And so should we! 

We live in an age today—as Micah experienced and as the apostle Peter said would be coming—where people won’t want to hear the news that unforgiven sin brings God’s judgment. Our response to this should be brokenhearted grief, tears, and a steadfast commitment to speak the truth in love that Jesus has provided the only means to be rescued from that judgment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here.

The Lord Has Provided

At different times when people encountered Jehovah God in a profound way, they would give Him a name that was representative of what He did. The first instance of this is when God miraculously provided a substitute sacrifice for Issac, prompting Abraham to call God Jehovah Jireh. This name means the One who foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need. God’s provision is perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed. 

God’s perfect provision is seen at least five times in the story of Jonah. 

  1. Jehovah sent a great wind on the sea. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed storm that caused pagan sailors to fall on their knees in worship of the one true God. 
  2. Jehovah provided a great fish to rescue Jonah. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed vehicle of rescue that caused Jonah to acknowledge salvation only comes from God. 
  3. Jehovah provided a uniquely-prepared prophet. He became a perfectly prepared and perfectly timed messenger of God’s mercy. Prior to Jonah’s visit, Nineveh had experienced two plagues (765 and 759 BC) and a solar eclipse (763 BC), which put the people in a state of heightened expectation. When Jonah arrived in the city, he was a whale-bleached prophet[*] of Jehovah which showed up with a message of God’s impending judgment unless the people repented. The response: the Ninevites believed God. 
  4. Jehovah provided a vine that shielded Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah was waiting for God’s judgment to fall on Nineveh. 
  5. Jehovah provided a worm to destroy the vine and get Jonah’s attention. 

I believe this story gives us three important lessons and three introspective questions—

  1. God is sovereignly in control of everything—storms, fish, prophets, plants, worms, astrological events, and agricultural calamities. God foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need or to get someone’s attention.  

Question: Will I let Jehovah Jireh be Jehovah Jireh for others, or will I try to tell Him what to do and when to do it?

  1. God is supremely merciful—God cares about everyone, as the apostle Peter reminds us.

Question: As Peter asked, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Will I allow God to extend as much mercy as is necessary to others, just as He extended it to me? 

  1. God’s saving grace is boundless and undeservedSalvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:9 NLT) 

Question: I love that this book ends with an unanswered question from God Himself, because it is our question to answer today: Should I not be concerned about that great city? What will I do with the good news that Jehovah Jireh has gone the full measure to make His grace and mercy and love and forgiveness available to ALL people? 

I hope you will take the time to prayerfully consider these questions. 

[*] “Ambrose John Wilson in the Princeton Theological Review for 1927 mentions a case of a sailor on a whaling ship near the Falkland Islands who was swallowed by a large sperm whale. The whale was later harpooned, and when it was opened up on the deck the surprised crew found their lost shipmate unconscious inside its belly. Though bleached from the whale’s gastric juices, he recovered, though he never lost the deadly whiteness left on his face, neck, and hands.” —Walter Kaiser 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

%d bloggers like this: