I can resist anything except temptation.” We might smile at this quip by Oscar Wilde, but it also may invite us to challenge ourselves: Has our pursuit of holiness—reflecting God and conforming to His will—been weakened through the corrosive influence of modern culture’s love of pleasure? How can we, as we seek to honor God, resist temptation?
Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, try to win the love of God. We endeavor to be better people, to do more to spread His love and grace, to work harder. But God doesn’t love us because of the things we accomplish for Him; He loves us “because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5), as Paul wrote to Titus while he ministered on the island of Crete.
I’ve witnessed church conflict close up, and it’s often not pretty. Accusation and counteraccusation, name-calling, gossip, betrayal, and heartache—all of these can oppose the fullness of life that God has brought. Unresolved conflict among God’s people can not only rip apart its members, but can also weaken and destroy our witness to a watching world.
“I never thought a fence in Finchley could be a place where I encountered God as much as at the Western Wall,” said a man at a retreat I was leading. He was referring to a prayer exercise we did based on the book of Lamentations and some of the Psalms. Using the Western Wall in Jerusalem—the surviving remnant of God’s temple, where pilgrims often slip prayer notes in the cracks—as inspiration, we wrote prayers of lament on slips of paper that we slipped into the cracks and crevices of the church fence as a symbol of releasing them to God. The gentleman who spoke up had recently been to Jerusalem and prayed at the Western Wall, but he also sensed God’s presence at a humble fence in north London.
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
In our nightly prayers with our children, my husband and I like to end with the words Moses used when he instructed Aaron and his sons to bless God’s people (Numbers 6:24-26). This benediction reminds each family member that God loves it when we ask for His protection, favor, grace, and peace.
In my mid-twenties, I was part of the leadership team for our young adult group at church. One day a younger friend on the team said, “I feel like you’re trying to mentor me, but I’d rather you were my friend than a mentor.” I felt embarrassed and hurt at her words, but agreed that I had started to view her as a project. When I changed how I saw her, we were free to be friends again.
The American Civil War involved brother fighting against brother—not only symbolically, but sometimes literally. James and William Terrill were officers who fought for the opposing armies. William broke ranks with his family when he joined the Union side. Both brothers died in battle, never to be reunited.
The opening to a prayer written by author Joni Eareckson Tada pulses with praise: “Almighty God, you are our Mighty Fortress, our refuge and the God in whom we place our trust.” In naming God’s attributes, she follows the example of King Solomon in his heartfelt prayer when he dedicated the newly built temple.
After coming to faith in Jesus, John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, made the dramatic change from being a slave trader to influencing the eighteenth-century movement to abolish slavery in England. But he didn’t fully turn to Jesus in the moments when he first famously cried out to God when he thought his ship was sinking. In fact, Newton admitted that he probably wasn’t a true believer until much later.
John Calvin (1509–64), in his commentary on 2 Peter 1:4, suggests, “The purpose of the Gospel is to make us sooner or later like God . . . a kind of deification.” Many scholars have speculated about what the reformer meant here. Did he really mean that in some mysterious way we can share God’s nature? Most agree that Calvin’s words are based on the idea of being “engrafted” into God through Jesus. Because of Christ living within us through His Spirit (see John 14:20), believers can pursue spiritual growth and transformation.
I enjoy looking around my local London church on a Sunday morning, taking in the array of faces. Along with British people, I see those from Nigeria, Uganda, Romania, Macedonia, Brazil, and many other places. I’m reminded of the vision John saw of a “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). In a small way, my multiethnic church reflects that picture—reminding me that, although believers have differences, we belong together.
I love how joy can bubble up, unbidden. It can surprise me when I walk next to a gurgling brook or when I catch a glimpse of the faces of family and friends. Even when I fret about the friend whose feelings I’ve hurt, I can seek God’s help and peace as I release to Him my anxiety and receive the gift of His joy.
“How can they observe the season of Lent and then miss out on the feasting afterwards?” a friend asked, mulling over the seemingly lost practice of celebrating the season of Easter—the fifty days following Resurrection Sunday. Christians who follow a more liturgical tradition dedicate the forty days before Easter as a season of prayer and fasting (while celebrating the resurrection each Sunday), but they sometimes neglect to embrace the discipline of celebration during the Easter season. Fasting without the subsequent feasting loses the experience of joy that God longs for His people to know and embrace.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) and John Wesley (1703–1791) lived more than a century apart and in very different contexts. But both created a means of self-examination to aid in their spiritual transformation. Ignatius recommended that those in the religious order he formed pray an “examen” prayer twice a day to open themselves to the Holy Spirit and to discern the movements of their soul either toward or away from God. John Wesley, similarly, formed a series of twenty-two questions that he and his small group in Oxford asked themselves each night, including, “Did the Bible live in me today? Am I enjoying prayer?” Both men longed to be changed and molded by the Spirit to be more like Jesus.