The triune God has revealed himself preeminently in Jesus Christ. And his testimony is the organizing principle of Scripture. We should know him there.
The Bible is the story of God’s glory and grace that stretches centuries and cultures and literary genres, all pointing to and holding up the definitive witness of Jesus — who is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14), the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3), the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), in whom all the fullness of deity is pleased to dwell (Colossians 2:9), who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).
Jesus reminded his disciples that everything written about him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44–45). Peter said that God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ would suffer (Acts 3:18). Paul said that the gospel mystery of Jesus was made known through the prophetic writings (Romans 16:25–27). From Genesis to Revelation, the Book is about Jesus. That’s the point in the Redeemer mentioned in Genesis 3 who would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). That’s why God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). That’s why he told Moses that there would be a prophet like him who would rise up in Israel and speak his word (Deuteronomy 18:15). That’s why God told David that he would have a son who would be enthroned as King forever (2 Samuel 7:16), a King to whom Solomon still looked and the prophets eagerly proclaimed.
The Redeemer, the Son, the Prophet, the King — he’s the one the whole world longed for. And then he came. Born in Bethlehem, in a stable, the promised one came. And he lived the perfect life, tempted in every way we’ve been tempted, yet he never sinned. He trusted his Father and was faithful to the end, to the point of death, even death on a cross. On a cross. A cross where he suffered in the place of sinners, where he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The cross of his condemnation brought us peace. The scene of his forsakenness became the grounds to our adoption. Jesus, by faith in him, reconciles us to the Father. Jesus makes us no longer enemies, but sons and daughters. No longer dead in Adam and destined for wrath. But now, because of Jesus, we are alive in him, alive to God, filled with his Spirit, and drawn into this very story of his glory.
Practically, this means we read the Bible. Jesus’s people are Bible-people. Let us read it through, and study it, and memorize it, and every time we open its pages breathe this prayer with our hearts: “Show us Christ.”
To Know Jesus, Personally
We want to know Jesus theologically and biblically because we know him personally, and in order to know him more personally. We can’t extract any of these perspectives if we’re to really know him, and especially not this one.
If we focus exclusively on the theological side, it could become all about not falling into error. If we focus exclusively on the biblical side, it could dwindle down to a cerebral exercise of one exegetical discovery after another for the sake of exegetical discovery. But if we know him personally, the uncreated Son is the one who saved us. The Suffering Servant is the one who suffered for my sins. The priest after the order of Melchizedek is the one who prays for me, who knows all of my failings and weaknesses and who never tires to plead for me. If we know him personally, he is not just the Jesus of theological categories, or the Jesus of canonical testimony, he is Jesus my Lord and my God. Jesus, our Savior.
Practically, this means we commune with him as we learn of him. It means we think about Jesus and we talk about Jesus. It means we love him.
This is the joy we have been saved to, that we know Jesus, and in knowing him, live in outspoken clarity about his identity and significance.
Why, in the body of Christ, is foot washing such a rare occurrence, when Jesus himself said we ought to wash one another’s feet?
Ought means duty, obligation – something we owe. When was the last time you washed your brother’s or sister’s feet? Or have you ever? Perhaps you feel it something to be done only by the Pastor or his wife as a church ordinance or tradition. But I challenge you to think of it in a new way.
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:3-5 (NIV)
Try to imagine how you would feel if the Lord was washing your feet, as he did to the disciples. Close your eyes and picture this in your mind. Feel the soothing warmth of the water, the strength of His strong hands massaging your feet and toes. The texture and smell of the soap are rejuvenating. You felt so weary and tired, but now your feet are tingling. You are refreshed and humbled by His touch. Your soul feels restored by His service of love to you.
How shocked the disciples must have been to see their Master coming to them girded with a towel and carrying a basin. He was their Master yet He was doing the work of a servant.
“‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this,'” John 13:7 (NKJV) was Jesus’ answer when Peter questioned Him.
“So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.’” John 13:12-15(NASV)
There have been times the Lord told me to serve in this way. Once to prepare a sister for her wedding day: I washed and perfumed her feet. Another time, a conflict arose in a relationship and the Lord impressed upon me I must humble myself and serve by foot washing. This was part of restoring the relationship. Several times the Lord has sent me purely as an act of love.
When Mary washed Jesus’s feet, it was a public display of adoration and preparation for His death. People were reproving the act of love she gave, but Jesus said,
“Let her alone; why are you bothering her and causing trouble? She has done a good and beautiful thing to Me. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, wherever the good news [regarding salvation] is proclaimed throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:6, Mark 14:9(AMP)
Jesus said, “… whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.” Matt 25:40 (NIV)
I can’t be as Mary and wash His feet with my tears, but the Lord can and will use my hands to wash the feet of members of His body. What about you?
Jesus walked away from toxic people and let them walk away from Him. We can learn to follow His example.
For the first fifteen years of their marriage they served the church in two dramatically different ways. Both David and Ginny had gifts for ministry, loved people, and felt honored to serve the same congregation. David was the pastor and Ginny led the music ministry and adult education. Their mission was the same, but they responded to toxic people in totally different ways.
When they started at their first church, a woman came at Ginny like a heat-seeking missile. She was clearly needy and explained to Ginny that she wanted an accountability partner, a friend, a shoulder to cry on, and someone to call (at any time, day or night) when she was in need. This woman was certain that the Lord wanted Ginny to be that person. So, Ginny made the commitment and jumped into a relationship that lasted fifteen long and painful years.
This woman demanded everything and gave nothing back. She would call at all hours and expect Ginny to drop everything, even the care of her children, to listen, pray, and help her manage whatever issue she was facing. When Ginny would try to establish barriers, the woman would declare that Ginny was not loving, not caring, and maybe not even a Christian. She would share this with anyone who would listen.
Over time, this woman began declaring to anyone who would listen that no one at the church cared about her or did anything to help her. She even wrote a letter to the church board saying that Ginny was an unkind person and should not be serving at the church until she learned how to “be more like Jesus.” Finally, this angry woman left the church. She told people, “I am going to find a church where the members actually care and where the pastor’s wife is not a hypocrite!”
During this same decade and a half, David also encountered a handful of toxic people in their church. He was kind to them but always seemed able to keep them at arm’s length. They would make demands of him and he would smile and let them know that it was not his job to be their personal counselor, to meet all of their needs, to be their best friend, or to come to every event they felt he should attend. Some of them got angry and pushed back, but other members of the church would assure David, “That guy has always been like that and everyone knows it!” They would assure him that keeping a safe distance from “that guy” was a wise decision that most of the church members would understand.
Instead of being controlled by a few super-needy, angry, and highly demanding people, David invested that time in two or three leaders each year. He would identify those who were mature leaders that needed some coaching and encouragement and he would pour into them. David also had a gift for finding younger and upcoming leaders and helping them sharpen their gifts, grow in prayer, and learn to serve Jesus in the church and the marketplace.
When David and Ginny accepted a call to move to a new church, they took time to evaluate their ministry. David was thankful that he had the honor of preaching and leading the congregation, but he told Ginny that one of his greatest joys was seeing several leaders take serious steps forward in their love for God, service in the church, and their passion for living out faith in their home and in the workplace. Ginny told David that she celebrated the growth in the music ministry and the adult classes. But, sadly, she had not really invested in developing many leaders. She said, “Most of my time for the last fifteen years has been invested in one woman, and I wonder if I made any lasting impact on her life.”
No matter who we are, we all experience difficulty. To be sure, the degree of life’s severity differs from person to person. As I write this, many around the world are experiencing heartbreaking realities (I am thinking most immediately of those affected by war in Aleppo and Mosul and the thousands of refugees seeking asylum around the world).
In every season of our lives, in every place of our existence, there is tension and conflict. From the wrenching reality of losing loved ones to silly inconveniences like warm drinks getting cold and cold drinks getting warm, life is hard.
What’s more, when the difficulties of life show up we crave explanation. We cannot help but search for meaning in the face of tragedy and pain. This inclination is part of what makes us, us. When we can’t find answers we often come up with our own. And, if you’re like me, your answer is often not a good one. Consequently, our bad answers cause us to respond to pain in ways that can cause more pain to ourselves and others.
Four Reasons Life Is Hard
In an attempt to alleviate the complication of grief and find deeper meaning in our hardships here are four reasons life is hard, plus specific ways we can respond to our difficulties.
1. Life is hard because the world is broken.
The Christian story begins with the Creator creating everything (Genesis 1:1). Then creation rejects the Creator. And this rejection fractured the entirety of creation (Genesis 3:14–19). As a result, nothing is as it should be and life is made more difficult. We are all to blame for this brokenness because we have all rejected God and his goodness. So we each have a responsibility to confess our part in our fallen world and work together to seek the welfare of it, making our surroundings more reflective of God’s initial intentions.
God’s holistic restoration plan includes us! The good news is that God desires for us to join him now in making his plans for restoration, unity, and peace a reality (Colossians 1:15–23). Jesus suffered for his suffering world so that we would find holistic renewal in him, a renewal that will be completed when Jesus brings heaven and earth fully together in the age to come (Revelation 21:4).
Life is hard because the world is broken, but Jesus is restoring all things from the brokenness of the world by his power and through his people.
2. Life is hard because of you and me.
Sometimes our lives are hard because we are sinners (Romans 3:23). We make bad decisions — accidentally and willfully — and these choices make our lives a lot harder. Often, life is hard because we not only do evil things, but then don’t respond well when the consequences come (Proverbs 19:3). Life is not hard because of us all the time, but it is a lot more of the time than we care to admit.
No matter the sin it is vital that we do not simply say, “This is just who I am,” and fail to pursue revision. No. In this case we must confess sin and repent. That was the initial call to action of both John the Baptizer and Jesus (Mark 1:4, 14–15). Only on the other side of confession, repentance, and belief will the hardness of our sin be eased in Christ. In him we find true wisdom, righteousness, and redemption from our sin (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).
Life is hard because of you and me, but Jesus graciously forgives us when we confess that our sin has dishonored him and made life complicated and difficult (1 John 1:9).
3. Life is hard because of someone else.
Sometimes life is hard — not because the world is broken nor because we personally sinned — but because others sin against us. This is the story of Job (Job 2:7). This is the story of the man who was left for dead in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). This is the story of Jesus (Luke 23:34).
Jesus responded to the great need of humanity by allowing himself to take the position of a victim and bearing the sins and folly of the entire human race (Isaiah 53:5). Therefore, when we are victimized, we should remember that Jesus not only can identify with us in our unjust treatment. Since he put shame to shame on the cross, we also find power and cleansing in him.
Life is hard because of others. In love Jesus washes and cleans us when the sins of others have harmed us (1 John 1:7).
4. Life is hard because God is good.
Many of life’s difficulties are by design.
In his kindness, God has intentionally shaped the world in such a way that effort would be required to accomplish significant change, progress, and reward (2 Timothy 2:6). From the beginning, Adam is given a job to work the ground (Genesis 2:15) and to cultivate and shape creation. In other words, work showed up in the beginning. When embraced as a gift from God, work makes us stronger, more collaborative, smarter, more skilled, and so on.
In fact, there can be great joy in this aspect of the hardness of life because it matures us (James 1:2–4). Paul even writes that we should do whatever work we do as worship to the Lord and from the very center of who we are (Colossians 3:23). And so we should never pray away this type of difficulty; rather, we should embrace it, discern its purpose, look to Jesus, and pray to be made more like him through it all. Through many of life’s difficulties we are made more like Jesus. “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11).
Life is hard because God is good. Jesus uses these hard things in life to make us strong and more like him. Praise God he does.
Life Is Hard, But God Is Greater
Here’s the point: life is hard, but there is always hope.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8–10)
Life is hard for many reasons, but through it all we are being made more into the image of God. Jesus is greater than every hardship; he is victorious over every pain. All of life’s tragedies, sorrows, and iniquities should ultimately lift our gaze to the day when the sinful difficulties of life will be taken away and the formative tensions of life will only and fully point us toward the goodness and glory of Jesus. In other words, we should long for the day when our craving for meaning will be fully and finally satisfied in God himself.
I recently attended a Bible study on Psalm 23. We are all probably familiar with the first verse of that psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” For me, this has always conjured up images of a gentle leader providing perfect guidance. A shepherd certainly does that. But during this study, I learned that the shepherd will lie down at the gate to the field where the sheep are kept to protect them from all harm.
As I listened to the teacher, I was reminded of all the times the Lord has protected me, and I began writing them down. I thought of 10 right away, and the list is still growing. But one example has always stood out to me.
I was preparing to drive a group of teenagers to a church meeting. As I pumped gas into my car a powerful feeling came over me that got my full attention and I heard in my mind the words, “Pray for protection.”
My thoughts turned to the precious cargo I would be transporting that evening as I prayed.
That night, as we were getting close to our destination, I saw traffic cones all along the side of the road. It was pitch black as there were no streetlights on this road. Suddenly, a car came out from between the cones and passed in front of me, and I had no time to even touch my brakes. The car came so close in front of me that it seemed like metal went through metal.
This was in the days before airbags and I can’t imagine what would have happened that day if I had plowed into that car at full speed. To this day, it fills my heart with gratitude to the Lord.
I used to wonder why the Lord didn’t just protect us. Why did He ask me to pray? Now, I realize, had He just protected us, I would have thought, “Oh my gosh, that was close!” and went on my way. But because of the experience while pumping gas, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was God at work, watching over His precious children.
I remember my pastor once told a story about the day his daughter was in a car accident. He said at that moment he would have tried to run through a wall if he had to, in order to get to her.
As I heard my pastor say that I thought, “What a picture of our Heavenly Father.”
To be sure my pastor is a loving father, but it’s not possible for anyone to love us more than our Heavenly Father.
Isaiah 58:8 says,
“… the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.“
That means He’s always got my back. He’s always looking out for me and, like my pastor, when one of his kids is in trouble, He will move heaven and earth to get to them.
GIVING GOD THE GLORY NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE FACING
Witnessing a magnificent fireworks display, hearing a stunning symphony, or seeing a glorious sunset can evoke a response of praise.
But often, it’s easier to praise a sunset than the Creator of the sunset. In that same way, the difficulties of life often cloud our vision and keep us from praising God. What can we do to restore a heart-attitude of praise?
THE NATURE OF PRAISE
Praise, according to the Scriptures, is an act of our will that flows out of an awe and reverence for our Creator. Praise gives glory to God and opens us up to a deeper union with Him. It turns our attention off of our problems and on the nature and character of God Himself.
As we focus our minds on God and proclaim His goodness, we reflect His glory back to Him. The results can fill you with peace and contentment ( Isaiah 26:3) and transform your outlook on life.
REASONS TO PRAISE
Very simply, we praise God because He is worthy of our praise ( 1 Chron. 16:25; Rev. 5:11-14). He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is our Creator, Provider, Healer, Redeemer, Judge, Defender and much more.
Another foundational reason to praise God is simple obedience. The Bible says God is a “jealous” God who demands and desires our praise. “You shall have no other gods before Me,” says the first commandment ( Deut. 6:7). As the psalmist said, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” ( Psalm 150:6).
As we praise God, we will discover incredible benefits for our lives. That’s because human beings were created by God to praise Him ( Isa. 43:7, Matt. 21:16). Due to man’s original sin, however, this relationship was disrupted. Praising God helps restore us to that right relationship, for God actually dwells in the praises of His people ( Psalm 22:3). As we draw near to the Father in praise, He draws near to us ( James 4:8).
Praise is also our ultimate destiny. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns again to earth, all creation — including prideful mankind — will recognize His glory and praise Him ( Phil. 2:9-11).
PRAISE FOR PROTECTION
God also gives us assurances of additional blessings as we praise Him. When we praise God, He honors us as His children, and provides His loving protection ( 2 Sam. 22:47-51). Failure to praise God, however, leaves us out of fellowship with God and out of His divine protection ( 1 Samuel 2:27-32).
Our praise can also serve as a powerful witness to those who do not know the Lord ( 1 Peter 2:9). Also, God can work miraculously through our praises. The ancient walls of Jericho came crashing down, giving victory to God’s people, as a result of shouts of praise ( Joshua 6:1-21). The prison doors shook open when Paul and Silas praised God ( Acts 16:25-26).
OBSTACLES TO PRAISE
Praise is both important and powerful. So why is it so difficult at times to praise God? The Bible explains that, even with the power of the indwelling Jesus, our hearts are still “more deceitful that all else” (Jer. 17:9). We sometimes forget that we are always dependent on God to live victoriously in this life.
Satan therefore tries to persuade us that we will eventually reach a point where we can “do it ourselves.” The Scriptures are clear that Satan “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” ( 1 Peter 5:8).
Disguised as an “angel of light,” the devil and his host seek subtly to subvert the praises the children of God owe to their heavenly Father.
God, however, has given us grace in times of need, provided we humble ourselves (Matt. 23:12; James 4:5-10). Praising God allows us to defeat the strategies of the enemy. As God’s adopted children, we no longer have to remain slaves to sin (Gal. 4:6-7). We have a powerful spiritual weapon in praise, and it is guaranteed to be effective (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
LIVING A LIFE OF PRAISE
It is vitally important to live in an attitude of praise toward God. But what can you do if you are having difficulty maintaining a life filled with praise?
1. Commit your life to Christ. First, be absolutely sure that you have placed your complete faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life. The Bible says that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” ( Rom. 10:9). The life of praise begins here, with the confession of your mouth that “Jesus is Lord.”
2. Confess sin and repent. Sin, including prideful self-reliance, separates us from God and from His love and protection. But we have the assurance of forgiveness if we come to Him in repentance ( 1 John 1:9). Confess any known sin and ask God to search your heart. Then, receive His forgiveness.
3. Praise God anyway! Despite your present feelings, it is important to offer praise to God, what Hebrews 13:15 calls a sacrifice” of praise. Despite our feelings or circumstances, God often asks us to take the first step, especially when He is trying to help us grow in our faith ( James 1:2-4).
4. Join together with other believers. Sharing your struggles with another brother or sister in Christ is not only good idea ( Ecc. 4:9-10), it is commanded ( James 5:16). Uniting with other believers in regular worship is also a key to being able to praise God ( Heb. 10:24-25).
AS YOU PRAY
Are you living a life filled with praise for God? If not, take a few moments to examine your life and your relationship with Jesus. If you have not made Him Lord of your life, start there. Then, confess any known sin and receive His forgiveness. Ask Him to renew you and refresh your spirit.
“Lord, You have made me and You love me. Forgive me for failing to give You the praise which You deserve. I confess my need of You in all things. I desire to walk in joy and praise. Release me now into a deeper understanding of who You are, so that I may truly praise You. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
GOD’S WORD ON PRAISE
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods” ( 1 Chron. 16:23-25).