Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Proof In The Longing

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

The Proof In The Longing

My soul is consumed with longing for Your laws at all times. (Psalm 119:20) 

     Can you say that your heart pines for God as the watcher through the midnight sighs for the dawn, or as the traveler over burning sand longs for the shadow of a great rock? Oh, then, though I would not have you rest in longings; indeed, I know you never can. Yet they are a proof that you are spiritually alive! Heart longings are far better tests than attendance at sacraments, for men who are dead in sin have dared to come both to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Eager desires prove spiritual life much better than supposed attainments, for these supposed attainments may all be imaginary. But a heart breaking for the longing that it has for God’s Word is no fancy. It is a fact too painful to be denied! … 

     We have not reached perfection, but do not let us, therefore, be discouraged, for the apostle of the Gentiles said, ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect’ (Philippians 3:12). … When a man thinks himself so good that he cannot be better, he is probably so bad that he could not be worse. … 

     The fuller a man is of grace, the more he hungers for grace! Strange it is to say so, but the paradox is true—the more he drinks and the more he is satisfied and ceases to thirst in one sense, the more he is devoured with thirst after the living God! … This it is to be a true child of God: To always have a yearning soul toward God’s Word, to be eager after His commandments at all times. May the Holy Spirit keep us ever hungering and thirsting after God and His truth.

From Holy Longings

In a recent interview that I did, I was asked how someone should deal with the fact that they are struggling to be balanced in their leadership. My reply was, “The very fact that they are feeling the struggle should be a great encouragement to them. People who don’t feel the tension of wanting to get better are blinded to their deficiencies and never seek help.” 

The proof of our growing maturity is in our longing for growing maturity. 

The psalmist in this great chapter is thrilled with what God’s Word has already accomplished in his life, and yet he is still longing for the Holy Spirit to do an even greater work in his heart. This is the tension in which every maturing Christian should live. The devil would love to whisper to your heart, “Your longing for more proves that you are still immature.” This is an utter lie! As Spurgeon reminds us, the more of God we have, the more of God we will crave.

My friend, never be satisfied with what you have already attained. Be delighted with what God has done, but crave that He will continue to do more and more and more! These longings not only delight God but bring Him great glory.

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You Have To Be Tuned In To Yourself

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis while his podcast partner Dace Clifton was on sabbatical.

From all of the podcasts and interviews they had done, Kyle shared with me how so many pastors find it difficult to take a Sabbath break. Kyle noted that a pastor’s day of rest seems to bump into everyone else’s day of work. 

I’ve found this to be true for anyone in leadership, even if they’re not a pastor. It seems that a leader’s work is never done, making it very easy to try to maintain a 24/7 availability. If you feel like rest is a difficult thing to maintain, you’re in good company because Jesus had the same struggle. 

That passage in Mark 6 that I mentioned is instructive for leaders in a couple of ways. First, Jesus was looking out for His teammates. He saw that they were tired and He called them to a place of rest. Good shepherds are always tuned in to the needs of the flock around them. As David said in Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd knows when to lead us to quiet pastures and still waters. 

Second, I see that Jesus was also tuned in to Himself. Even though He was trying to get to a quiet place, He took time to minister in teaching and food to a crowd that was described as “sheep without a shepherd.” When this time was finished, Jesus took time alone to pray (Mark 6:46). 

I think sometimes leaders have sabotaged their own health and effectiveness by saying things like, “This is quitting time” or “This is my day off.” Instead, we should listen to the Holy Spirit giving us insight like, “Take a break now. It’s time to go to a quiet pasture. It’s time to recharge in prayer.” 

Leaders, don’t stick rigidly to your schedule but stay tuned in to yourself. Listen for the unmistakable voice of the Holy Spirit giving you wisdom. I have a section of five chapters in my book Shepherd Leadership that deal with every aspect of a leader’s health. Please pick up a copy today.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Cutting The Root Of The Weed Of Sin

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Cutting The Root Of The Weed Of Sin

I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. (Psalm 32:5) 

     We must confess the guilt as well as the fact of sin. It is useless to conceal it, for it is well known to God; it is beneficial to us to own it, for a full confession softens and humbles the heart. I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. Not to my fellow human beings or to the high priest, but to Jehovah. … 

     When the soul determines to lay low and plead guilty, absolution is near at hand; hence we read, “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Not only was the sin itself pardoned, but so was the iniquity of it; the virus of its guilt was put away at once, as soon as the acknowledgment was made. God’s pardons are deep and thorough: the knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the ill weed of sin.

From Spurgeon And The Psalms

I notice again the Selah at the end of this verse. That word means to pause and deeply consider the previous words. I shared a sermon about the weight that is lifted and the freedom that is restored if we will just confess our sin to God! 

But the devil loves to condemn us, to whisper the lie that we’ve sinned one too many times for God to forgive us again. This is truly a lie because a forgiven sin is a forgotten sin. So in essence when we ask God to forgive us for our most recent sin, He views it as our only sin! 

In my book Shepherd Leadership, I challenged pastor-shepherds to make good use of confession: 

     When your reactions aren’t Christlike, admit it. Someone might want to push back, “But if I say I was wrong, then I may lose some leadership credibility.” I would agree that you will lose credibility if you believe you are a self-made leader and if you are climbing up a career ladder that you designed. But if you are truly living and leading as a servant that God has equipped and placed among this flock, admission of an un-Christlike action or reaction triggers something extraordinary: God’s help. Peter said it this way: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). 

     Did you catch that? God stands back from the proud person who will not admit his error nor ask for help, let alone ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, God lavishes His grace on the humble one who admits both his error and his need for help. Admission of an inappropriate action or reaction brings God’s help! 

     Friends, the mark of a maturing shepherd is not one who never misspeaks or never makes a mistake. No, the mark of a maturing shepherd is the one who is closing the gap between his mess up and his confession, and one who is experiencing fewer mess ups over time because the Holy Spirit is helping him get healthier and more mature. —an excerpt from chapter 12 of Shepherd Leadership

Don’t listen to the devil’s lies, but hear the loving voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to confess your sin and receive immediate absolution from it. As Spurgeon said, “God’s pardons are deep and thorough: the knife of mercy cuts at the roots of the ill weed of sin.” 

If you would like to know more about Shepherd Leadership, please click here.

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Links & Quotes

Immature people only want to do the bare minimum, but mature people want to do more than is expected of them. Jesus called these people those that went the second mile. That was a topic in my most recent Monday Motivation series.

I am a big fan of The Babylon Bee. If you haven’t checked out their satirical wit, please do so! One post that caught my eye this week is called What Your Favorite Book Of The Bible Says About You. Wow, did this one make me laugh! If you would like to check out some real Bible studies, I have some here and here.

Cold-case detective and Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace discusses how Jesus impacted other world religions—

The drought in north Texas has revealed some more dinosaur tracks, raising some new questions about these massive animals that roamed Earth.

The devil loves to try to pervert the conviction of the Holy Spirit into condemnation. Here is the freeing truth we can stand on: There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Sean McDowell elaborates on the dangers of pornography.

Judging The Right Way

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I have probably heard this verse quoted more by non-Christians than any other verse: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). 

Does Jesus mean that we can never point out to anyone else an area of concern? No, because Jesus Himself did this as well as nearly every epistle writer of the New Testament. What it does mean is that confrontation needs to be truly corrective and never condemning. 

Correcting means that I am never serving as the judge and jury. But it does mean that I can lovingly help someone before they have to stand before God on Judgment Day. Jesus said that if I am a mean, self-serving judge of others, I can expect to receive that same treatment (v. 2). 

Instead, I need to first recognize that what I may see in another person may only be apparent to me because I am afflicted with the same thing. So my first response when I see “a speck” in someone else’s eye is to ask the Holy Spirit to show me a possible “plank” in my own eye. Only after I have dealt with this through repentance and making appropriate changes, will I have the necessary empathy and gentleness to help my brother or sister deal with their own eye speck (vv. 3-4). 

Jesus said that trying to get someone else to repent of something that still exists in my own life is being a hypocrite. It’s playing a role that isn’t me. So Jesus says “first” deal with my own sin, “then” I may help a brother or sister (v. 5). 

Notice that I have been very careful to use the phrase “brother and sister.” I believe that Christians should deal with fellow Christians, but we shouldn’t try to bring correction to those who don’t come from the same biblical paradigm that we have. In legal terms, I may say that we have no standing, or that non-Christians are out of my jurisdiction. 

One final thought. I think I need to treat a concern that another person brings to me in a very similar fashion as I would treat an eye speck someone else. Perhaps God sent them to me, so I need to ask the Holy Spirit to show me any “plank” that may be in my eye, even if it has been brought to my attention through a judgmental person. It is very God-honoring for me to give that person the benefit of the doubt by saying that they cared enough for my well-being that they would be willing to point something out to me. 

Correction is an important aspect of Christian maturity. But we need to make sure we do it in a Christlike way.

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Watch Out When Wants Become “Needs”

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

There is a mistaken belief that urges or yearnings or cravings that humans have are sinful and must be quickly squelched. To that end, many will deny themselves absolutely anything that brings them pleasure. 

But what God creates, He calls “good” and even “very good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). In one part of the Creation account, we read that God created “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (2:9). Things used in the way God created them are both good and good for us. The Creator knows the best uses, and He shares these with us. He also knows the harmful misuses, and He warns us of these. 

Even Lucifer was created “perfect in beauty” until his craving for more than God had given him corrupted his goodness and turned him into satan (Ezekiel 28:12-19). satan’s craving perverted his heart because he craved more than what the Creator had given him. 

He still uses the same tactic today: he attempts to turn a craving for a legitimate good into an irresistible, entitled pursuit for more. This is what he did with Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, trying to get them to doubt God’s wisdom in forbidding them from eating that one tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-6). 

Adam and Eve needed food, and God gave them a craving for good food. But they didn’t need the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—they just wanted that forbidden fruit. 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. 

Once again, satan tried the same strategy with Jesus. Jesus had a craving for food after 40 days of fasting, but His Father said, “Not yet.” Notice how satan again tried to get Jesus to question God’s wisdom with his “if” questions at each temptation. He even quotes a Scripture out of context to try to legitimize turning a want into a need (Luke 4:3, 7, 9). 

These longings may seem irresistible, but John counsels us: For every child of God can obey Him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him (1 John 5:4 TLB). Jesus defeated the craving for wants-turned-to-“needs” by using the Word of God, and we would be wise to do the same (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. And when “needs” become idols, our unfulfilled cravings create anxiety. And when anxiety persists, sin is usually not too far behind. 

So any anxiety in our hearts should alert us to the idols of wants-turned-to-“needs.” In other words, make sure what you are calling “needs” aren’t just wants in disguise. 

How can you do this? By asking yourself these four questions: 

  1. Is this an earthly craving or an eternal craving? Cravings for earthly things will ultimately fail because this world is temporary (1 John 2:17).  
  2. If I don’t get this thing, will I die? If I answer “no,” it’s probably a want. 
  3. Will this craving bring me closer to God? Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). So let’s ask ourselves, “If this longing is fulfilled, will it make me more dependent on God?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s probably a want. 
  4. Will this craving glorify God’s name? Jesus taught us to begin our prayer with an attitude of longing for God’s name to be glorified (Matthew 6:9-10). We can definitely spot wants we’ve turned into “needs” when we are looking for personal gain. Check out this verse from the prophet Isaiah— 

And therefore the Lord earnestly waits, expecting, looking, and longing to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed—happy, fortunate, to be envied—are all those who earnestly wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him—for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship! (Isaiah 30:18 AMP) 

God longs to be gracious to you, so He puts cravings in your heart that can only be satisfied by His presence. Lucifer and Adam and Eve all lost God’s “matchless, unbroken companionship” when they tried to appease the wants-turned-to-“needs” idol. It doesn’t have to be like that for us! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you spot those wrong cravings and turn them into cravings that only God can satisfy. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called Craving, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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The Best Laid Plans

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 

This is a line from a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 called To A Mouse. The story behind the poem is Burns had been plowing his field and destroyed a nest that a mouse had been working all day to build. His poem was written as an apology. The famous line from the Scottish poet actually is written like this—

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
     Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
     For promis’d joy!

That phrase “gang aft agley” means often go awry. 

Do you ever feel this way? Like your perfectly planned agenda got derailed before you even finished breakfast? Or that your To Do list never quite gets “To Done” by the end of the day?  

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis while his podcast partner Dace Clifton was on sabbatical. We had planned to discuss how to help pastors get some rest so they could be at their optimal health, but our best laid plans definitely “gang aft agley”! We had multiple technical issues before we could even start recording, and then just as we talked about how pastors could find a way to rest, well, this happened…

Ah yes! Plans gone awry, indeed! 

But here is an important principle for all of us to remember. The Bible says this: We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9). That means the thing that I call “an interruption” may be something or someone God has sent my way. 

I used to really struggle with this, saying things like, “My plans never work out.” Until one day I heard the distinct voice of the Holy Spirit ask me, “Whose plans?” 

Right—I plan, but God directs. 

And He directly perfectly. 

So now I write the initials I.T.L.W. on the top of my well-crafted daily To Do list. That is shorthand for “If the Lord wills” which I took from this passage—

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) 

Pastor, look at the life of Jesus. He often tried to get away for a time of rest, but people with needs showed up. His well-laid plans appeared to go awry. But He had compassion on them because He viewed them “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). Jesus then found time to sabbath later. 

Don’t view people with needs as an interruption or as something that derails your plans, but thank God for sending them your way. Then listen to the Holy Spirit showing you how and when you can get the rest you need to be energized to accomplish the rest of the items on your agenda.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

The Full Cycle Of The Fruit Of The Spirit

In our most recent Go Deep Bible study, I was teaching about the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

There are four things that are notable to me in this passage:

(1) This whole section (Galatians 5:16-25) is circular. It begins with the phrase, “Walk by the Spirit,” and it concludes with, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” This tells me that our walk is never done—we never “arrive” but we must continue to walk with the Holy Spirit every day. 

(2) The fruit of the Spirit is singular—it’s not “fruits” but “fruit.” That means that the Holy Spirit is working to bring out all of these nine fruit, not just one or two of them. 

(3) The list of the fruit of the Spirit is also a circular list—

LOVE for God fill us with love for others → there is JOY in knowing His nearness → PEACE comes in the face of anxiety-causing tribulations → which gives me PATIENCE with others who are anxious without God → then I can have KINDNESS to draw them to God → and GOODNESS that is expressed in kind deeds → and my FAITHFULNESS that creates a sense of stick-to-it-iveness → and GENTLENESS that gives me courage to stand up for what’s right → my SELF-CONTROL keeps the fruit of the flesh in-check → which gives me greater LOVE for God and others… 

(4) This whole process of producing more visible fruit in the life of a Christian is called sanctification. I like to remember this word by saying it “saint-ification.” As long as we are still on this earth, there is still work for the Spirit to do in us, so don’t ever become discouraged by this ongoing process of love.

Created To Crave God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I was playing golf with a pastor and a missionary when the starter asked if a single player could join us to make a foursome. We happily agreed. About 4-5 holes into our game, our guest asked what we did. My pastor friend started out, “I’m a pastor, and this guy is a missionary, and—” 

Our guest interrupted and blurted out, “You guys are Christians?! I’ve never had so much fun! I always heard Christians were boring.” 

When did it come about that people thought of Christians as boring—or even worse, as sourpusses and killjoys? Sadly, too many Christians have helped cement this idea in people’s minds. I think this is largely because those Christians are misinformed and frustrated. This frustration, I believe, comes from the mistaken idea that Christians are supposed to squelch any urges or cravings that we have.  

But check out this Q&A from the Westminster Catechism—

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. 

Glorifying God is supposed to result in enjoyment—enjoying both God’s presence and the life He has given us. We are created to crave the fuel of His Spirit that satisfies and energizes us. 

Just as your car would at best under-perform if you attempted to run it with anything else but gasoline, so our lives will under-perform and feel like drudgery if we are trying to fuel our cravings with anything other than God. 

The dictionary defines “craving” as a great or eager desire, or a yearning. But I believe the Bible defines God-honoring craving as the longing for an intimate relationship with God that is implanted by God Himself. 

The people of Judah had gone astray from God and were trying to satisfy their urges with foreign gods and pagan idolatry. When King Asa called these backsliders back to God, here’s how he did it—

[Asa] commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers—to inquire of and for Him and crave Him as a vital necessity—and to obey the law and the commandment. (2 Chronicles 14:4 AMP) 

Contrast this with the temporary cravings of earth—

But those who crave to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish, useless, godless, and hurtful desires… (1 Timothy 6:9 AMP) 

This world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever (1 John 2:17 NLT). 

Nowhere are godly cravings and earthly cravings better contrasted than in James 4:1-6. 

In this passage, the Greek word for desires (v. 1) and pleasures (v. 3) is hedone. This is where we get our English word “hedonism.” There is nothing wrong with pleasure—for God Himself takes pleasure—but it’s what pleasures we are craving that can make them ungodly. James rightly points out that the wrong hedonism is a craving to fulfill “your desires,” “your pleasures,” and to desire “friendship with the world” (v. 1, 3, 4)

Jesus talked about worldly cravings—using the same word hedone—when He said, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures [hedone], and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14). 

Notice the same thing in Isaiah 58:2 where God declares that people “seem eager” to delight in God, but it’s only a show for them to satisfy fleshly cravings. John Piper noted, “God means they are delighting in their business and not in the beauty of their God. He does not rebuke their hedonism. He rebukes the weakness of it. They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.” 

Instead, notice the fulfilled cravings when we seek God: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14). 

I like that reminder that “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The origin of the word craving is the Old Norse word krefja, which means to lay claim on something because of a promise. God has promised, and so we can claim it. 

James assures us that the spirit God implanted in us envies intensely (James 4:5). We were made to crave God’s presence, we were made to find ultimate satisfaction in His presence, we were made to find eternal delight in knowing Him more intimately! 

The proud person says, “God, I know what I want. Give it to me.” The humble person says, “God, I know Your presence is the only thing that will satisfy me. Give it to me.” 

The craving in our spirit can be redirected from earthly yearnings to God-honoring yearnings by yielding to the Holy Spirit. I would humbly suggest that our prayer should be something like this—

“Father, grant that my cravings are for Your name to be hallowed, Your kingdom to be made visible, and Your will to be done. Let the enjoyment I have in Your presence shine out of me in a way that invites others to be dissatisfied with their earthly cravings and find their ultimate satisfaction in a personal relationship with You through Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, continue to refine and redirect all of my cravings away from earthly things to eternal pleasures. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Craving, you can find all of the sermons by clicking here. 

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Go Deep—The Fruit Of The Spirit

We have been studying the different sets of gifts listed in the New Testament. These gifts are to bring maturity and health to the church. Previously we have looked at:

In this lesson, we discover how the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5) shows our Christian maturity.

You may download the participant’s study guide here → Go Deep – fruit of the Holy Spirit handouts

Near the end of this lesson, I shared something that I hadn’t included in the handouts, but I promised to share it—

LOVE for God fill us with love for others → there is JOY in knowing His nearness → PEACE comes in the face of anxiety-causing tribulations → which gives me PATIENCE with others who are anxious without God → then I can have KINDNESS to draw them to God → and GOODNESS that is expressed in kind deeds → and my FAITHFULNESS that creates a sense of stick-to-it-iveness → and GENTLENESS that gives me courage to stand up for what’s right → my SELF-CONTROL keeps the fruit of the flesh in-check → which gives me greater LOVE for God and others… 

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