Biblical Strategies Blog

4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men

Biblical Strategies is excited to introduce 4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men. We encourage men to: Mature in their faith, Master key habits, Minister inside and out, and Mentor the next generation. This is done through a brief teaching video, guided small group discussion and accountability as the men develop the key habits of Bible reading, Scripture retrieval, prayer, and walking in the Spirit. Here’s a look at Unit 1: lesson 1 (both the video and the manual). Welcome to 4M Training: a unique approach to spiritual growth for men. Available November, 2017.

To view the video click here.

Here is the introduction and lesson 1 from the 4M Training Manual.

3 Changes Necessary to Overcome Worry

Sometimes the most profound statements come from the most ordinary circumstances. Years ago, I was helping my daughter, who was in 5th grade at the time, with her Math homework. The assignment was introducing her to the metric system. Suddenly, I had a flash-back. There I was, sitting in my 5th grade classroom, and my Math teacher was telling us that we needed to learn the metric system because within a few years everyone in America would be using it. I shared the thought with my daughter, and added this comment: “Here we are 35 years later, and Americans are still stubbornly refusing to switch to the system that everyone else uses. I wonder why that is?” My eleven-year old looked up from her homework as if the answer was obvious. She distilled 35 years of history into less than 20 words when she said, “People don’t like change, Dad. Well, unless of course they get something out of it for themselves.”

You will never overcome anxiety without making fundamental changes in the way that you think. Some of these changes, you won’t like much at first. They will seem too harsh, too basic, or too difficult. You will be prone to believe that what you really need is a change of circumstances. So, you switch schools, jobs, and marriages, if necessary. But before long, you discover that the same patterns you had earlier with anxiety reoccur in your new surroundings. What you need is a change of mind, not a change of circumstances. This is why the Scripture says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” Paul’s letter to the Philippians carried some of the most practical advice for overcoming anxiety you will find anywhere. In Philippians 4:6-8 we discover that we will need to change how we think about worry, how we think about prayer, and what we think about.

Change how you think about worry. God commands us not to worry; when we do, we sin.

…do not be anxious about anything,

Change how you think about prayer. Make it your pattern, not your panic button.

…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Change what you think about. It’s your mind. You are responsible for controlling your thoughts.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety

When I’m anxious, does God even care?

First Peter 5:7  is one of the sweetest verses in the Bible.  Peter recorded this truth for people who were under severe persecution. He writes, “Casting all you anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We all have the desire to control things that we cannot, and we often forget how deeply God cares for us. If I had authored the verse, I might have chosen a different quality of God to emphasize. Something like his perfect wisdom or his unlimited power. Logically, it would make more sense to think that even though I am not in control, an all-wise, all-powerful God is.  But the Holy Spirit saw fit to inspire Peter otherwise, and I’m glad he did. When it comes to anxiety, he chose to emphasize the compassionate, softer side of God. When I am fearful, I find comfort in this truth: I’m not alone in my struggle, and God cares.

The challenge, of course, is that anxiety can wake you up at 3:00 AM. The silence in your house echoes the message: No one’s here and no one cares. In these times we feel so very alone. We stare into the darkness trying to find a reasonable solution to the trouble we’re in. The alarm clock interrupts our thoughts, but not our sleep, a shrill reminder that this is the time we should be waking up had our anxious thoughts not awakened us earlier.  As we enter into the day, all those around us seem to interact quite naturally with one another. They laugh about their weekend. They complain because it’s Monday. They tell stories about their relationships or listen to others who do. We smile and exchange formalities as if we’re part of the group, but our anxious thoughts are all our own. They whisper deceitfully: No one knows, and no one cares. But the Bible tells us this is not entirely true. It may be true that the smiling people around you are clueless to your difficulty. It might even be true that some of them, if they knew, wouldn’t care. But God knows, and he cares. This is why the first principle of overcoming anxiety is belief. You and I must learn to believe God’s Word, not our feelings.

We live in a world where feelings reign supreme. Listen attentively to the conversations around you, and I’m sure you’ll agree. Every day, people are making life-changing decisions from a feelings-foundation. Statements like, I feel like this is the best decision for me, or I just don’t feel like I love him anymore are commonplace. This mindset has even drifted into our spiritual conversations. I often hear people say I feel like this is God’s will for me or I just had a feeling that it was the right thing to do. Because our feelings are personal, deeply felt, and sincere, they are easy to believe. But that doesn’t mean that we should believe them. The root word for “believe” occurs 241 times in the New Testament. Nearly half of those times it is used by the apostle John. He directed us to believe the Father, his promises, his Word, and his Son. But not once did he say we should believe what we feel. This is the necessary starting point for victory over feelings of anxiety. It’s time to ask yourself: what do I really believe?

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety

Five Essential Weapons to Stand Against Temptation

King David was a man after God’s own heart, yet his temptation with Bathsheba revealed a lack of the kind of character he exhibited when he was younger. God had chosen him as king (instead of one of his older brothers) for his purity of heart. However, as his story unfolded, those key inner qualities that he once possessed began to fade. While the compromises may have seemed small at first, they left him vulnerable in his battle with sexual temptation.

After 25 years of listening, learning, and guiding people through the regret and devastation of sexual failures, I’ve discovered that their stories have common touch points. Like David, the individuals I encounter also lack an internal fortitude to strengthen their will when temptation beckons with sexual desires. I’d like for you to imagine those inner qualities as “five small stones.” Just as David reached into the brook and gathered five stones to slay Goliath, these inner qualities are powerful weapons to be utilized in our battle for sexual purity. As a young man, David practiced them with proficiency. He was as internally accurate as he was externally—he could hit the target of temptation, just as he struck Goliath. But if you could do a postmortem on David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, you would see that, later in life, his spiritual sling lacked projectiles. Those five key qualities—so essential to his battle with sexual temptation—had fallen into disuse. In that moment, David was an unarmed warrior. For each of us, these stones are just as valuable when we battle sexual temptation. With them, we can stand against desire. Without them, just like David, we’ll fall. Here are the five small stones that wield great power against sexual temptation.

Humility: To walk in humility is to recognize that you cannot win the battle with sexual temptation in your own strength.

Integrity: To practice integrity is to make a commitment to transparency during temptation, and to confession after sin.

Loyalty: To desire loyalty is to love God by using your body for his glory, not your temporary pleasure.

Responsibility: To exercise responsibility limits your opportunity for temptation because you are preoccupied fulfilling your commitments.

Accountability To live with accountability is to guard your vulnerabilities through the Word and fellow believers.

Ask yourself are you still wielding these vital weapons? At one stage in his life, David had them, but, as they fell into disuse his vulnerability to sexual temptation gained free run in his life. If the mighty warrior can play the part of a fool, what chance have we to enter the battle theater unarmed and remain unscathed?

Taken from Strength for the Struggle: biblical strategies for standing against temptation

How even the strongest can fall to sexual temptation

The bellowing of the giant echoed across the valley floor. The boy-king looked down into the Brook of Elah.  Shimmering waters rolled over the small stones at the waters’ edge. Undeterred by the giant’s size, strength, or reputation, the boy-king picked up five small stones and slipped them into his shepherd’s bag. These were not your typical rocks for child’s play. They were barium sulphate—twice the density of normal stones. When launched from his sling at 100 m.p.h. they would have the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. At nearly ten feet tall, the giant appeared invincible, but appearances can be deceiving. The boy-king had five stones and the skill of a sniper. He raised his voice in answer to the giant’s intimidation:

This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down! That all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hands! 

Goliath was out of his league. And on that spring day, while thousands looked on, the giant fell to the little-boy-king named David.

Twenty-five years have passed. The boy-king has become a man. He’s looking down again, but it’s not for five small stones to slay a giant. David is on the roof of his palace, and his eyes scan the rooftops below. He knows what he’s looking for, though he’s acting like he doesn’t. He’s seen her bathing once before; the image keeps returning to his mind—beckoning him to forbidden pleasures. It’s only a glance, he reasons. If she appears, I’ll look away. Suddenly she’s there, on her rooftop—just as if his memory had called the image to life. His pulse quickens. His breathing comes quick and shallow. He knows what’s next—the memory of those past images awakening his desire. He turns his head away, but his eyes reach back toward the woman bathing. A battle ensues.

Look away.  She’s not your wife.

 It’s just a glance. No one will see you.

 This is wrong.  You’re a married man.

 You’re free tonight.  Is she?

Transfixed—his body’s stillness does not reveal his mind’s struggle. The internal battle is fast and furious; his will weakening under the onslaught. What had started as curiosity is now the full grown desire for pleasure. His imagination is racing ahead with the images he has captured. Entitlement is not far behind: You’re the king! What’s wrong with lookingsince you’re the king and she’s your subject? Find out her name and invite her to the castle.

There once was a boy-king who, with five small stones and a sling, watched a giant fall and gave God the glory. But when he became a man, he chose to stand unarmed on the top of his palace, locked in a life-and-death struggle with the giant of sexual desire.  This time, the giant didn’t bellow intimidating curses across the valley floor. It whispered promises of unrealized pleasure—of being desired and desiring in return. And on that spring day, the giant won the battle, defeating the king who had pursued his own pleasure, and at great cost to the kingdom.

Taken from Strength for the Struggle: biblical strategies for standing against sexual temptation

Standing against sexual temptation by seeing others as Jesus saw them.

Jesus saw people differently than we do. When the disciples saw children as a nuisance; Jesus saw them as citizens of heaven. When the religious leaders saw the tax-collectors as despicable; Jesus saw them as reachable. And when men saw prostitutes as disposable; Jesus saw them as redeemable—women in need of healing and forgiveness.

Learning to see others as Jesus saw them is an effective means to stand against sexual temptation, both in thought and action.  Jesus didn’t see people as sex objects to be desired.  He saw them as human beings, made in the image of God, broken and in need of healing.

On occasion I have counseled parents whose daughters were dancers in gentleman’s clubs. The image the parents gave was not one the paying clientele saw. Their daughters were broken women, struggling with bouts of fear and anxiety. They loathed their career, but lacked the confidence to believe they could do anything else with their lives. They depended on drugs to dull the pain they felt when they took the stage. Their stories were full of sadness. My heart broke as I listened to their parents tell the real story behind the stage personality.

Learning to see others the way that Jesus saw them takes into account the brokenness of those who have been sexually abused. Studies have shown that before the age of 18, one out of every six men and one out of every four women will have experienced sexual abuse. Those numbers are staggering. When I speak on this subject at conferences, I will typically have the men who were born the first two months of the year stand. Then I’ll have the women join them who were born the first three months of the year.  Then I tell the audience, those standing represent statistically the number of men and women in a crowd of this size   that were sexually abused. I’m always amazed at how many people are standing. Those in the audience grow quiet as they come to grips with the pain that has been caused by uncontrolled sexual desire. This is what it means to look at others through the eyes of Jesus.

A friend of mine learned to look through Jesus’ eyes on a global scale. In many parts of the world, sex-trafficking runs rampant. Women and children are taken from their homes in rural villages with the promise that there are good paying jobs in the cities. Once they arrive in the city, they are locked in brothels and forced to work the sex trade. My friend understood that unless they were given an additional work opportunity and taught a different trade, they would be caught in an endless cycle. He and his wife discovered a brothel in Asia that covered two city blocks and housed 20,000 women and children who were available to the highest bidder. He grew so burdened that he  and his wife packed up their belongings and started a business down the street from the brothel. Slowly, but surely they did what others before them have attempted: rescuing these women by teaching them a respectable trade and providing a safe place for them to survive.

This is what it means to look through the eyes of Jesus. We don’t see sex objects to be desired. We see broken people in need of healing and forgiveness.

Taken from Strength for the Struggle: biblical strategies for standing against sexual temptation

 

What you Believe about Anger Enables Your Anger Problem

Because anger is a mixture of our emotions, thoughts and choices, it often feels like something that happens to us. Our prideful tendency is to shift the blame to others, causing us to feel justified in our victimhood. We express this position when we say things like, “You make me so mad,” or “I wouldn’t get angry if you didn’t treat me like that.” But are we willing to relinquish that level of control to another person? Is that what we really believe? In the moment it might feel that way, but is it an accurate expression of what is really happening? When we practice an unrestrained expression of our feelings, we become more confident that their motivations are truthful, and we quit trying to discern whether or not they actually are.

The Greek language is, among other things, very descriptive. Its verbs communicate meaning through mood, form, voice, and tense. The voice of the verb indicates the doer and/or receiver of the action. In the case of anger, the active voice would read, “I made you angry;” whereas, the passive voice would read “I was made angry by you.” In the first case, I was the doer of the action; in the second case, I was the receiver of the action. But the Greek language, unlike English, also has a middle voice where one can be both the doer and the receiver of an action. The Bible scholar W.E. Vine makes a significant point about the word “anger.” He notes that eight of the times it occurs in the Scripture, it is in the middle voice. In those instances, it literally means, “I made myself angry by what you did.”What makes this Biblical truth so challenging to grasp is that anger rarely feels that way. It genuinely feels like: I was made angry by you.

Let me illustrate with an imaginary character by the name of Jack. Jack has anger problems. He knows it. His boss knows it, and most significantly, his family knows it. Like all of us, Jack’s inner life is comprised of his thoughts, emotions, and choices. But because of the deceptive nature of emotion, it always feels like circumstances are conspiring against him. And because he determines truth largely by how he feels, he believes other people are causing his anger. It’s almost as if he’s not an active participant. The reason Jack feels this way is that when he’s angry, his thoughts seem to run on their own; he doesn’t feel in control of his emotions. The only thing left of Jack’s inner identity is his choices. Yet, with his thoughts and emotions fueled by his anger, it feels as if his choices have been taken away as well. He’s even expressed it this way: I don’t have a choice but to get angry. Jack feels like he’s boxed in. We might even think of him as “Jack-in-the-box.”

But the Bible teaches that Jack isn’t trapped in a box where his emotions, thoughts, and choices are decided for him. Notice the propositional statements of Scripture: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). Or do you not know that you are the slave of whatever you choose to obey (Rom. 6:16). For you were called to freedom, brothers…through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). As a believer, a better presentation of Jack would look like this image. Jack is set free to engage his emotions, thoughts and choices as he will. He received a new heart at the point of salvation. That new heart, filled with the Spirit of God, enables him to set his thoughts upon Christ, engage his emotions around the things of God, and make choices in light of the will of God. Certainly this is a process, and I would not want to infer that an emotional change takes place overnight. Still, our emotions usually follow what we have chosen to think about. With his new heart, Jack can now make choices and think differently than he did before. This is a theological reality that is incredibly freeing.

But, when Jack is angry, it doesn’t feel that way. From his perspective in the box, it feels like anger is happening to him—like others are causing his anger. His son’s refusal to do his homework consumes his thoughts, his daughter’s belligerence fuels his emotions; and when his wife greets him at the door with a honey-do list, Jack feels like his choices for the weekend have already been made for him.  As shown below, from where Jack stands in the box, it feels like his thoughts, emotions, and choices are out of his control. When anger is at work, he doesn’t feel free in Christ. He believes he has no other choice but to get angry. Because of our tendency to shift the blame for our wrongdoing to others, we are prone to interpret our anger in the passive voice. We are quick to say, “You make me so angry when you do that.” This is the angry man’s belief system: he believes that others are causing his anger.

But remember that the Bible speaks of anger occurring in the middle voice. So, to bring what you believe in line with what the Bible is teaching, you need to say, “I make myself so angry when you do that.”   Jack believes he is in a box because of what others are doing, but the truth is that he is the one controlling his thoughts, emotions, and choices. Biblically speaking, Jack’s anger occurs in the middle voice—he is the one causing it. This is why you will never overcome anger without first correcting your belief system. While anger feels like something that’s happening to you, it is actually something that you are doing to yourself. Your belief system matters. When you think about how you were wronged, you feel more justified in your belief system, and anger naturally follows. If you meditate on anything long enough, you will begin to believe it. The order matters: thinking leads to belief, belief fuels your emotions, and the emotions erupt in angry speech, actions, and attitude.

Understanding anger in the middle voice actually brings great hope. You are free in Christ, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Work on bringing your belief system in line with the Scriptures; bring every thought captive, and you will discover that he who the Son sets free is free indeed.

Taken from Fighting the Fire: biblical strategies for overcoming anger

How do I change my mind about my anger problem

The New Testament word for anger describes a person who is taking a long time to think about how he will respond.  While he’s taking time, he isn’t seeking a spiritual replacement or patiently waiting for God. Instead, he is hunkering down in his hurt, judgment, and indignation. Bible commentator William Barclay refers to this as,

A long-lived anger … the anger of the man who nurses his wrath to keep it warm; it is the anger over which a person broods, and which he will not allow to die.

This is the anger of the person who has become fully convinced he has a right to be angry. When we dwell upon how we believe we were wronged, we develop a sense of entitlement. This is the kind of entitlement the prophet Jonah had as he sat on a hillside outside of Nineveh and longed for that city’s destruction. In the end, God asked Jonah the question, “Do you do well to be angry?” He responded with, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” This is orge anger. There is conviction in it. This person will not be easily persuaded that they are wrong. They are too deeply invested in the conclusion to surrender it easily. Like Jonah, when we choose to dwell upon how we were wronged we will find anger to be a trap—a warm and inviting one, perhaps, but a trap nonetheless. That is why Paul warns fellow believers to “put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander…” James offers the same insistence when he says,

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Most people think of anger as only an emotion, so they strive to control it only at the emotional level. Interestingly, the popular culture describes love in much the same way, as more emotion than volition.  But while anger and love do touch our emotional side, they are not exclusively feelings. The Bible defines responses like anger and love more as choices than emotions.  William Barclay’s definition of the word orge makes this clear. The angry person is brooding, meditating and dwelling upon the things that make him angry. He is choosing to think thoughts that stir up angry responses. Imagine it this way: your thoughts are the fuel for your emotions, and your emotions become the basis for your conviction. As you brood and dwell upon your hurt, you are fueling those emotions. As you fuel the emotions, they seem to burn hotter. It feels like they are happening to you, as if you are a passive recipient in the process, not an active one.  It’s easy to forget—albeit temporarily—that you are the one stoking the fire of your emotions with your thoughts.

The growing fire of our emotions bring about another result. Because our emotions feel so genuine, we are more likely to believe that they are based on truth. In reality, they are only based upon our thoughts. In our arrogance, we presume that our thoughts are based upon truth.  This is why Jonah expressed such conviction that he had a right to be angry, even when he didn’t. He had dwelt upon what he perceived to be wrong for so long that he was convinced it was true. Ironically, he had experienced firsthand the mercy of God, and he affirmed that truth about God’s character. Yet, in his anger, he stubbornly refused to allow the truth about God’s mercy to be granted to the Ninevites. Jonah, the preacher of the greatest revival in the history of mankind, rejected the chance to rejoice in the sparing of a people and insisted upon their destruction. Jonah was unwilling to let his thoughts be brought into line with those of a gracious, merciful God. Had he done so, he would have stopped fueling the fire of his emotions and weakened his mistaken conviction. Sadly, he did not. As long as we are of sound mind, our thought processes are always choices, even if they don’t feel that way.

Because this type of anger is a choice, we can choose to replace it with thoughts and actions that make way for real transformation. Though our culture perceives anger and love to be more about what we feel than what we choose, the Bible tells us that both are primarily choices—love naturally replaces anger. When we believe we’ve been wronged, it’s easy to feel unloved. Our thoughts swirl around our hurt and pain. But what if there was message that was so bold, so strong, so efficacious that it overwhelmed your sense of entitlement? A message that reminded you, without a doubt, you were loved. Such is the gospel message: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Dwelling upon God’s love is a powerful replacement to dwelling upon your angry, indignant thoughts. The life Jesus lived testifies of this. He was abandoned by his closest friends in his hour of need. Betrayed by a close confidant after years of his investment. Rejected by the religious leaders for their political gain. Turned upon by the fickle crowd that five days earlier had heralded his arrival as king. Any one of these challenges would have stirred up in us an unrighteous anger. Yet, notice where Jesus had directed his thoughts. In his final recorded prayer in John 17 we read, “because you have loved me before the foundation of the world.” By dwelling on the Father’s love, Jesus was able to respond graciously to the most violent of rejections. The one who had created and sustained all things did not take upon himself the mantle of entitlement, but rather the form of a servant.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

As he meditated on the Father’s love, he was able to love others well, and avoid the temptation to be sinfully angry. Can you imagine the possibilities if we would consistently follow Christ’s example?

The joy of overcoming a bitter spirit

A bitter person is consciously, willfully angry. He refuses to let a hurt go. He insists on making the other person pay. Whereas, the Bible instructs us to set our mind on the Spirit of God, the bitter person refuses to let go of his pain. As he dwells upon how he was wronged, he convinces himself that his anger is justified. Being fully convinced of his interpretation of the facts in his own mind, he secretly continues to accuse his offender. As he does this, the bitterness grows. Soon it effects other areas of his life as well.

On the human front, the biblical strategy for overcoming bitterness is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is making a commitment to release the offender from the punishment you believe they deserve for the hurt they’ve caused. Often the bitter person will insist that the offender doesn’t deserve forgiveness. This places the angry person in the judge’s seat and only further fuels his bitterness. The Bible, however, doesn’t teach that you forgive your offender because they deserve it. Instead, it teaches that you forgive someone because you were yourself forgiven by God when you deserved it least. In the verse immediately following our passage of study we read,

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Once when I was teaching on forgiveness, a woman sought my counsel afterwards. She had a cynical response to my teaching. She insisted that there were some hurts that were so deep that they couldn’t be forgiven. Later that week we met, and she shared her sad story.  Her brother was serving a prison sentence for a crime he’d committed against their family. In her bitterness, she had never visited him during his incarceration, and now he was about to be released.  As I listened to her resentment, it struck me that her brother wasn’t the only one imprisoned.  I told her so, and she wept. After some time, she lifted her head, looked me in the eyes and said, “How do I get out?” I took a deep breath, knowing we were in painful territory. “Have you ever confronted him for his wrongdoing, shared your pain, and told him he should ask your forgiveness?” She shook her head. “Do you know why you haven’t done that?” She shook her head again.  “Perhaps you’re afraid that he might actually ask; then you’d have a choice to make.” The statement hung in the air until her voice interrupted the silence: “Well, I think we’re done here.” I walked her to the door, and thanked her for the courage to share such a painful experience. Two weeks later following a service, I saw her across the sanctuary. She was walking briskly towards me, her dour frown replaced with a broad smile. “I did it,” she said. “I visited my brother in prison, and I released him from the hurt he had caused.” “He’s free,” then thoughtfully she added, “And so am I.”

Five years later I was speaking at another church when I looked into the audience and saw the same woman. She still wore the same smile she had for our last meeting. After the service she thanked me again for encouraging her to restore the relationship with her brother. “He died two years after he was released from prison,” she said. “I’m so thankful I was able to restore my relationship with him after all those years.” As she introduced me to her other brother who was with her, he said, “Thank you for setting my sister free. For years she was trapped in her pain.” As they turned to walk away, it occurred to me:

bitterness is a prison cell of our own making, and forgiveness is the only key that opens the prison door.

Taken from Fighting the Fire: biblical strategies for overcoming anger

The Will of God and Self Pity

When man was created, he was placed in a garden. That garden was perfect in every way, and only one tree was off-limits. Adam and Eve were asked to submit their wills to their Creator by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All was well until their desires were awakened. Then, for the first time, they felt the tension between their will and God’s will. Maybe they’d never considered their choices before. Maybe, just for a moment, they felt pity for themselves because God had denied them the fruit from the one tree. We may never know, but what we do know is this: God wanted something for them, but they wanted something else for themselves. They chose what they wanted and stepped outside of God’s will for the first time. The consequences for their choice were disastrous.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus returned to a garden. He was no stranger to the garden of Gethsemane, having frequented it with his disciples. But this time was different. In the Garden of Eden, the will of man had been tempted, and man had chosen independence over surrender. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the will of man would be tempted again, but this time the desire for God’s will would overpower personal desires. Jesus expressed this in prayer with the words:

Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.

He had progressed in his understanding of, and obedience to, his Father’s will. In the midst of intensely difficult circumstances that would cause even the strongest of men or women to pity themselves, Jesus held such feelings at bay by focusing on the will of God and pursuing it with abandon. Jesus submitted to the will of God because he trusted the character of God. Three aspects of God’s character will increase our confidence to seek his will over our own: his wisdom, his love, and his power.

God’s Wisdom

Living with suffering is hard work. It’s easy to lose your focus. Once your focus is disoriented, it becomes difficult to avoid self-pity. Suffering can come in many forms, not all of them physical. Our mind struggles with harsh and critical statements that seem unjustified. Our emotions vacillate between confusion, anger, and grief when circumstances in our life seem to contradict the hand of a loving God. When the apostle Peter heard of the suffering that Jesus would have to endure, he tried to protect Jesus. He said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus’ answer was quick and to the point: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.”

Jesus focused on a specific aspect of the character of God—his wisdom. God thinks differently than man thinks. The wisdom of man is short-sighted and pragmatic, but God’s wisdom is eternal and directed purposefully. The ability to focus on the character of God—not the wisdom of man—is a quality that Jesus developed, and he exercised it most fully in the garden of Gethsemane.

God’s Love

As the suffering of the cross drew near, Jesus asked if there might be another way. Mark recounts it this way:

And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’

Abba is a family term. It might best be rendered in the language of our day as “Daddy.” When my kids want the quickest access to my heart, this is how they address me. It’s the term that every dad knows—like they’re saying, “Dad, I know you love me.” Jesus is clinging to the character of his Father’s love. He finds resolve for submitting to his Father’s will by reflecting upon his Father’s love. Believing that God is all-wise means that God knows what is best for us; believing that he is all-loving means that he wants what is best for us. With gut-wrenching suffering on the horizon, Jesus didn’t question his Father’s love.

God’s Power

Immediately following Jesus’ affirmation of his Father’s love, he affirms his Father’s power. He says, “all things are possible for you.” This is not the first time Jesus has used those words. He had acknowledged God’s power on other occasions with the very same phrase. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, his belief is tested at the highest level. Does he really believe that the Father has the power to act if he should choose? Yes, he does. This is expressed in his final words from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Having breathed his last, he reveals a complete dependence. Jesus believes his all-powerful Father will bring about his resurrection. Jesus embraces the will of God by focusing on the character of God. He does not question his Father’s wisdom, love, or power. This enables him to surrender his will to his Father’s.

One of my seminary professors who made a profound impact on my life was Dr. Fred Barshaw. Prior to becoming a pastor, Fred served as a public school teacher. Gifted in understanding the learning process, he received the esteemed “Teacher of the Year” award for the state of California. Fred’s strength was his application of the Word to real life situations, and I was drawn to the unique ways he found to communicate. During my final year, Fred began his battle with cancer. I graduated and headed into ministry on the other side of the continent. Several years later, I was developing material for a class I was teaching, when I realized my lay out and presentation looked strikingly familiar. I went to my filing cabinet, pulled out my notes from one of Fred’s classes, placed them next to my own, and immediately recognized the similarity. It almost looked like I had plagiarized. Having not intended to do so, I realized I was teaching just like my teacher. I picked up the phone and called Fred, wanting to communicate my deep sense of gratitude for his investment in my life. Cancer had taken its toll. He was short of breath and spoke with a hoarse whisper. Because he was so weak I expressed my appreciation quickly, then asked how I could pray for him. There was a long pause and then the words: “pray that I would be faithful to the end.” A remarkable request considering the amount of pain and suffering he was enduring. I prayed that way. Within a month Fred Barshaw died, faithful to the end.

Our response to suffering can take one of two roads. Either we can seek to do God’s will by dwelling upon his character, or we can focus on the difficulty of our circumstances. If we choose the latter, self-pity won’t be far behind. Fred Barshaw did what Jesus did. To the very end he sought the will of God, and that’s what we should do too.

Taken from Dead-End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity