Why Read the Bible

If you go to church, you’ve heard a pastor say you should read your Bible. But why? What is the point?

If you want to be a better parent, spouse or leader, aren’t there books more helpful than the Bible?

This especially comes up when pastors are surprised that our REVcommunities (our small groups) discuss the sermon. They tell me how mad their people would be if they couldn’t discuss a parenting or prayer book. I get those questions in our church. I’ll get asked, “Why can’t we do a parenting book or a book on prayer? Josh, are you against books on prayer?” No, but it depends on the book.

The reality is, you don’t need another book or Bible study. They are helpful, but you don’t need marriage advice, money advice or parenting advice. It’s not like you don’t know how to pray, be married, handle money or be a parent.

I’ll give you some examples:

Take marriage. What does the Bible say? Love your spouse more than yourself. Keep your marriage bed pure. It says more, but if you did those two things relentlessly, do you think your marriage would change?

Or dating. Don’t date someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. Don’t marry someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. Why? If you don’t agree on the life shaping, central truth of your life, you will be in trouble. But they’re so cute. One day they’ll be old, fat and saggy. But they complete me. No they don’t, and you know it. You are grasping at straws.

Money? Where your treasure is, there your heart is. The Bible talks about not being in debt, giving back to God before you save, spend, go out, or do anything. Don’t envy what others have. Would giving to God 10% right at the beginning and then living off 90% change things in your finances? Some of you are thinking, “I couldn’t do that.” Why? Did God get it wrong? Do you think living by God’s standards financially would change your finances and bring them under control?

Teach your kids biblical truth everyday. Don’t punish your kids out of anger. Don’t provoke your kids to anger. Don’t push them away, but instead like a good father, pursue them. If you did that, would things change in their lives? Would relationships be different?

Hebrews 4:12 says, For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It shapes us.

That’s why (one of the why’s at least) we should read the Bible.

“But, I Worry about Everything.”

All of us worry.

About everything.

We worry about our kids, our spouse, our friendships. We worry about our parents’ health, our kids’ health, our spouse’s health, our friends’ health, our health. We worry about finances, education, job prospects, making ends meet. We worry about conversations we’re going to have, conversations we’ve had and conversations we only imagine having.

We worry when we get into a car, when we take a walk, go to the gym, when we get on a plane, train or boat.

We worry.

We worry in the woods, in a cabin, an apartment or at a beach house.

Around every corner is disaster and calamity.

Some of us worry more than others.

The other day I was talking to someone and he told me, “But I’m anxious. I was born this way. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

As we talked, he had a lot of anxiety. Much of it was about real things, but some of it was about imagined things, things that had not happened.

Most of our anxiety is about imagined things. Yes, we worry about things that are actually happening, but the conversation we’re worrying about having we haven’t had yet. Our kids haven’t walked through all of life that we have imagined for them yet, but we still worry.

As my friend and I talked, I asked him about some of the promises of God, like Jesus telling us in Matthew 6:25 to not be anxious about your life, or Paul telling us in Philippians 4:6 to not be anxious about anything.

He shook his head and said, “But this is how I am. What am I supposed to do?”

The reality is, he is a worrier, about everything. That is his tendency.

So I asked him, “What is a sin, something in the Bible that we’re told not to do, that you don’t struggle with?”

Once he told me, I asked, “What if I told you people think they are just that way in the same way you think you are anxious and that’s who you are?”

All of us have some kind of tendency.

Some of us are more prone to struggle with sexual sin, greed, being stingy, being a workaholic, being dependent or isolating ourselves in relationships. We don’t struggle with all those things.

The reason I know is because some of you read that last sentence and thought, “I don’t struggle with that.”

The point is, just because you struggle with something doesn’t mean you get a pass or you can disregard a verse about that or think that you can’t change that in your life. Jesus can.


7 Ideas to Help Your Kids Grow Spiritually

How do you help your kids grow spiritually?

As our kids have gotten older, this is a question Katie and I get on a regular basis. It is one we’ve gotten right in certain seasons, and in others we’ve wandered around lost. Sometimes things that we do work really well, and other times they fall apart.

Here are seven ideas for you as a parent to help your kids grow spiritually:

1. Model your spiritual life to them. The reality of anything related to parenting is that you pass on what you do. If you want to pass anything on to your kids spiritually, you must model it for them. They will watch you for 18+ years. They will see you read your Bible (or not), how often you pray and what your prayers contain (so much is taught in this), how often you attend church and how important spiritual things are to you.

2. Involve them in a church. Just like the first one, they will often do what you do. So do what you’d like to see them do.

What if they don’t like church? Many parents will talk about how their kids don’t like to attend church, attend a worship service or something else. Many times I’ll hear parents say, “I don’t want to force spiritual things onto my kids.” This is often from a place of fear as a parent because you don’t know what to do, but also the fear that your kids will reject it and want nothing to do with Christianity. The problem with this is that we don’t apply this to anything else. We force our kids to do math, learn a language, eat broccoli, turn off their electronics and take a nap, often when they hate every moment of it.

If you don’t involve them in a church, when do you think they will learn that? If they don’t understand an aspect of a worship service, explain it to them. If you don’t know what to tell them, do some research together.

I think it’s important as often as possible for kids and students to be involved in small groups, serving in a church and attending the worship service in a church. Is every kid different? Yes. Should you force your kids to do something they dislike? Sometimes.

Our kids take out the trash and dislike it, but they still do it. I don’t think they’ll be scarred as adults because of that.

3. Read the Bible together. Part of why kids dislike church is they don’t understand the relevance of the Bible and the things that happen at church. It is something their parents do, apart from them. So do it with them.

I know this is difficult, and they don’t always want to sit still, but doing something is better than nothing.

For our family, we’ve tried things like the Jesus Storybook Bible when the kids were younger to using a catechism now so we have a question each week we are working through as a family. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something.

4. Read books to them. One of the things you can do is read books to your kids and discuss the spiritual themes in them. Whenever we watch a movie, we always talk about how it is like the one true story we see in Scripture. What are the themes and how do those themes influence us?

5. Listen to their questions. This might be one of the most overlooked aspects of your kids’ spiritual life because it is out of your control as a parent and doesn’t come on a schedule. But your kids have questions, and when they ask them, engage them. Don’t shoo them away or scold them for asking a question. If they are skeptical or have doubts, talk with them.

This is an incredibly powerful message you are sending them as their parent. You are telling them it is okay to ask questions, to wonder about something, to be unsure.

If you don’t know the answer, tell them and then study it together.

Ask them why they are curious about that. This engages their life. Is it in a book, a show, from a friend? This is an important window into their world.

6. Interact with their friends and talk with your kids about how to pick friends. Don’t sit on the sidelines when it comes to their friends.

You have an enormous impact on their spiritual lives, but so do their friends. Be involved in that.

7. Pray for them. If you’re a follower of Jesus you know this, but it is easy to overlook the power in it.

If you aren’t praying for your kids, who do you think is?

Pray for them. Pray with them. Ask them what you can pray for, even if they say nothing, which will often happen as they get older.

Are these sure fire ways to make sure your kids grow spiritually? No.

There isn’t a sure fire answer to almost anything in parenting, but parenting is about involvement and trying and faith. Lots of it.

How to Trust God When Life Hurts (Jonah 2)

Maybe you still struggle with the question, “Can I trust you, God?” After all, when we sin we are telling God we don’t think we can trust him.

It’s a question Jonah wrestled with as he prayed in the belly of the fish in Jonah 2. The disciples wrestled with trusting God in the New Testament.

What is helpful for us is how people in the Bible handled it. When they came to this question, they looked backwards. They looked to their past to see how God worked not only in their life but in the lives of others.

If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Abraham, and our knowledge of his story kind of takes away some of the amazingness. In Genesis 12 we have this man named Abram. He all of a sudden appears in the pages of Scripture. He is out in the desert and he hears a voice, a voice he may have heard before, but maybe not. We aren’t told. This voice, God from heaven, tells him to pack up what he has and move “to a land I will show you.”

Now picture this: Abram goes home and tells his wife Sarai that they are to pack up and go to a land that this voice (God) will show them. I always wonder what that was like. If she was like most wives, she probably asked him how long he’d been hearing this voice. Has it said other things? Did it give any directions? Any hints on what lay ahead?

No, Abram would tell her. Only that we are to start walking and stop when he says.

What God does tell Abram is that he will one day be a great nation and that all the people of the world will be blessed through him. The irony of this is that Abram has no children and is 75 years old.

Finally, as he walks to this land, there is a fascinating promise given to Abram in Genesis 15. Time has passed, and Abram and Sarai still do not have a child. From their perspective they are not any closer to being a great nation than when they left their home. So Abram does what we would do. He whines to God. Complains, actually.

God takes it and is incredibly patient with Abram through this entire conversation. As Abram unloads his feelings of despair, lack of faith, anger, and hurt over his desire to be a father, but yet not having this desire met (are you beginning to see the connection between not trusting God and giving in to temptation or other sins?), God tells him to look to the heavens and number the stars. Abram can’t number the stars, as there are too many of them. “So,” God tells him, “shall your offspring be.”

God doesn’t just stop there. He tells Abram what he (God) has done. What is interesting to me is that when God gives commands in Scripture, in particular the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, before giving a command, he reminds the people of what he has done. God is about to make a covenant, a promise with Abram, but before he does he reminds Abram of what he has done so far. He hasn’t just led him to a new place and promised him a son; he has guided, provided, and protected him and his family.

Then and only then does God give commands or make covenants. In Exodus 20, before giving Moses the law, he reminds him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (20:2) This is the foundation of the commands of God, his promise and the freedom that he provides.

In Genesis 15, after reminding Abram, he makes a covenant with Abram. We aren’t told in Scripture if Abram asked for it, but he was at least doubting and wondering if this was going to happen. He was complaining to God, as we would do. This has always been a comfort to me, that God doesn’t strike down questions in the Bible, but listens and answers them.

God tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram did and cut them all in half. In this time period when two people made a covenant, they would kill the animals and cut them in half, and then they would walk through the animals, saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I end up like these animals.”

It was getting late and Abram fell asleep. Then God made a covenant with Abram, while he was asleep. As the sun set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. Abram never passed through the animals; only God did.

This is the extent to which God goes to keep his promises as our Father. He makes the promise and keeps it, even when we don’t. Even in our moments of failure, doubt, and fear, he is still strong and sure.

The prophet Habakkuk is another one. One of the things that I find most fascinating about Habakkuk chapter 3 is how Habakkuk reminds himself of how God has moved in the past. He recalls how the nation of Israel began, how God brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in the book of Exodus and gave them the 10 Commandments.

What Habakkuk is doing is reminding himself of how God has moved in the past. Often our struggle is with trusting that God will show up. Habakkuk is showing us, “God worked in the past, so I can trust He will work now and in the future.”

This doesn’t mean that God will work in the same way as he did in the past. It doesn’t mean He will work on our timetable, but we do know He is at work.

You may be in a place where you need to remind yourself of how God has worked in the past of your life. Maybe you need to journal or make a list of things he’s done and prayers he has answered. If you are new to faith or maybe your list isn’t very long yet, look at the lives and faiths of others. How has God worked in their lives? How has God worked in Scripture that you can hold on to?

Being Content with Where You Are in Life

Do you love where you are in life? Do you love the job, house, family and life you have?

Would you change anything?

If we’re honest, most of us would change some things. But is that right? Should we be content with what we have, with where we are?

If we were sitting together at Starbucks, you would ask me if that is simply settling.

It can be, but my guess is it isn’t.

It is learning to be content.

If you are anything like me, you struggle with being content.

I always want more. Not in a prideful way, although that sometimes happens, but in a, “I know I could have more, I know I could be more” way.

In your 20’s this is simply growing and trying to move into adulthood. Once you start to move past 40 and into your 50’s, if you aren’t careful this can lead to burnout and disillusionment, because the goals you had never panned out. The dreams you were so sure you’d hit have fallen by the wayside.

Let me ask you something.

At first you will disagree with what I’m going to say, but hear me out.

What if the life you have right now (the house, the family, the career, the finances) is exactly the place God has you?

Depending on your perspective, that might be kind of depressing, but it isn’t meant to be.

You see, one of the reasons we aren’t able to move forward or move on to something is because we haven’t learned all that God has for us where we are. We become so consumed with what’s next, we don’t live in what we have. We don’t learn all we can where we are. We aren’t faithful with what we have, we always want the next thing.

But the reason we often get stuck is because we are so focused on what we don’t have that we miss what we do have.

The people who live life to the fullest are the ones who are filled with the most joy.

Do you know where that joy comes from?

Yes, the answer is Jesus.

But to give that more of a specific answer, it is contentment.

Paul says this in Philippians 4:

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

It is the key to joy.

What would being content with where you are mean for you? What would being content, enjoying the life stage you are in, mean? Not longing for the next thing or looking back at what you had, but being content. Here. Now.


How to Share your Faith

Inviting someone to church or sharing your faith about Jesus can be awkward. It is nerve wracking, scary and often times not what many followers of Jesus want to do.

Yet, the reality is if you are a follower of Jesus, you are to be a witness of Jesus. (Acts 1:8) That is a key and crucial piece of your new identity in Christ.

It is not optional.

Yes, some people are better at it than others, but all followers of Jesus are called to pray for people who don’t know Jesus and share their faith with them.

But how?

How do you know when you should share your faith or invite someone to your church?

There are clues to listen to when you talk to someone. Andy Stanley calls these “the not cues.” When you hear a person say something like, “Things are not going well.” Or, “I’m not prepared for…” Or, “I am not from here; we just moved to the area.”

When you hear any of these, you know it is worth the risk. Often the person who says these things is searching for something. They may not think it is Jesus, but it is.

Something crucial to not miss.

Recently, a friend told me this: If you meet someone who isn’t a Christian, you should assume that God wants to use you to help them become a follower of Jesus.

That stopped me in my tracks.

Let me say something to the Christians who are always asking for deeper preaching or a deeper Bible study or say, “I want to grow.” The best way for you to grow, to go deeper in your faith, is to share your faith. To be asked questions you don’t know the answer to and you’ll have to study. To have to stand there in a conversation and ask the Holy Spirit to tell you what to say. Those will grow you in ways that a class won’t.

So, how do you live more proactively on mission?

Here are some ideas:

  • Go to the same restaurants, coffee shops and the same classes at the gym. Frequency gives you the chance to build a relationship to share Jesus.
  • You can’t be a disciple without knowing people who don’t know Jesus.
  • Have people who don’t know Jesus into your house. People are longing for community and connection.
  • Keep your kids on the same team and in the same groups to make those connections. But what about changing teams and groups so they can get a scholarship? They won’t do that. Your job is to keep your family on mission.
  • Hand out the best candy on Halloween.
  • If you get invited to a party or BBQ by non-Christians, go. And take the best food and drink.
  • Talk to the person who cuts your hair, and if a Christian cuts your hair, switch and find a non-Christian.
  • Pray that God would move you into a neighborhood, get you a job or send you to a gym or to a school with people who need Jesus.

Why we Run and Hide from God (Jonah 1)

We run and hide for all sorts of reasons in our lives and relationships.

We are afraid of love or of loving someone else and opening ourselves up to hurt. We are afraid of being loved and opening ourselves up to be left.

We do the same things with God.

We run one way when He tells us to run another way. We try to take his role as God in our lives because we have a better strategy, a plan this time that will make everything work.

We hide from God because we aren’t sure how to be known, how to be in a relationship. We aren’t sure if God is safe because the family we grew up in wasn’t safe.

All of this leaves us in a miserable spot. It leaves us alone and afraid many times.

There’s a book of the Bible that is so familiar, and the reason it is so familiar is because we so easily see ourselves in it.


In Jonah we see someone that is very much like us.

A man who is scared, who doesn’t want to do what God calls him to do (in fact, it’s the last thing he wants to do), and so he runs.

He doesn’t just run, he buys a boat and a crew and sails in the opposite direction.

I always thought that Jonah ran because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh, which is partly true, but not for the reason I always believed.

Jonah went to Tarshish, an exotic port city. A place with pools, beaches, hip restaurants, while relaxing with umbrellas in your drink kind of place. He went after the life he wanted. He went after the life he felt he deserved.

This to me is one of the main reasons we get angry at God, one of the main reasons we run from God: someone else got our life. That person got my marriage, my family, my career. My life was supposed to go that way, but it didn’t. My family picture was supposed to have three kids in it, but it has none. My bank account was supposed to have another zero or two, but it doesn’t.

So we run. We hide. We get mad.

The other reason we run from God is we aren’t sure God will chase us.

Many of us have feelings of unworthiness and abandonment. We wonder if anyone cares, if anyone loves us. So we run.

We hide our sin, our desire, our pain, because we don’t know if God will care. We despise what God tells us to do because we know better. We run from God because we don’t want to go to Nineveh, what seems dull, boring or difficult in our life. We want Tarshish. We want the beach and drinks with umbrellas in them while we prop up our feet. We want to run from our marriage instead of doing the hard work. We want to bail on integrity because sin is more fun. We want to spend more money than we make because we deserve it.

We want Tarshish because we deserve Tarshish. That is my life, and God, you won’t take it from me.

But here’s what we see in Jonah 1:

You can’t out run the face of God, the presence of God. This sounds like a threat, but it isn’t. It is God’s grace to us. We need his face, his presence. We long for it, but we also fear it because in God’s presence we are known. We also see that the further we run, as far as our sin goes, God’s grace and his presence always find us there. His grace always goes one step further than our sin.

In the storm, God spared no expense to show his mercy to Jonah. He didn’t leave Jonah or let Jonah go. He went after Jonah to show his grace.

Let me say this to you if you find yourself in a storm or you see one coming. I don’t know if God allowed your storm to come or sent your storm, but your storm is an invitation of God’s grace to stop running from him. To stop hiding from him. To rest in him. To fall into him.

God will use whatever means necessary to grab our hearts. God will use health issues, marital issues, relational wounds, financial troubles, troubled kids and teenagers, friends who leave us. He will use it all to get a hold of our hearts, to get our allegiance.

God uses all situations for his glory and redemption. Verse 16 is incredible. All the men feared the Lord and offered a sacrifice to the Lord. All the men began following God because of Jonah’s stupidity, selfishness and the power and grace of God.

Nothing and no one is out of the reach of God’s grace.

Os Guiness said, We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God – which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but his descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in his grace.

So, why are you running from God? What is it that God has called you to? What things in your life are you doing that you know God has so much more for you?

Why are you hiding from God? What thing or person are you trying to keep from God?

Here’s a good way to test this. What is your prayer life like?

The reason I ask is, often when we are running and hiding we want nothing to do with praying. It is our way of trying to take hold, take control of the situation.

How to Grow in Holiness


If you attend church, you have heard this word. You have heard that you are supposed to be holy as God is holy. (1 Peter 1:16)

But why? Does anyone want that?

Two reasons. One, we are called to it as followers of Jesus. All over the Bible we are told to be like God.

The second reason is because it is the path to life and freedom.

Everyone is attracted to Jesus, and in Jesus we see the person who lived the freest and fullest life and did so without sin.

How do we grow in holiness, though?

Once we determine we want holiness and see that as the path to freedom and life, Peter gives some crucial steps in 1 Peter 1.

1. Live out of your identity as a child of God. The New Testament letters contain a lot of commands about how a follower of Jesus is supposed to live. All of those come after the promises and assurances of God’s grace towards us. It happens in the Old Testament, too. Take the 10 commandments. Before giving them, God reminds them that He rescued the nation of Israel and set them free. Then He tells them how to live in that freedom.

Peter does this in chapter 1. He spends the first 12 verses laying out the truth of God’s grace towards us and our redemption found only in Jesus. Then in verse 13 he says, “Therefore.” Because of this, in light of this, be holy.

Live out the truth of your new identity.

Sinclair Ferguson said, “Holiness is a way of describing love. To say ‘God is love’ and that ‘God is holy’ ultimately is to point to the same reality. Holiness is the intensity of the love that flows within the very being of God.”

2. Prepare for it. Holiness does not just happen. In fact, very little “just happens” in our lives. Holiness takes intentionality. So does sinning. You plan for sinning simply by not choosing not to sin. You put yourself in situations that make sinning a possibility or easier to fall into.

To be holy you must prepare for it, choose it and pursue it. This term is a military, athletic term. Training for a sport, a marathon or a long hike does not just happen. You have to plan your training, when it will happen and how it will happen. You schedule your nutrition and your sleep. All those preparations go into it. The same is true for holiness.

And this is where most of us fall off track. It is easier to prepare for sin than holiness. Sin is easier to fall into than holiness.

3. Focus on Jesus and His return. Throughout the New Testament, when endurance or obedience is commanded, we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, to look toward eternity and the promises of God we have in Jesus. Jesus is our only hope in life and death, and we must through the power of the Holy Spirit and the promises found in Scripture, keep our eyes focused on Him. Peter uses the word “fully” or “completely.”

This means identifying the things that will take our focus away from Jesus. What idols, desires or loves will put our eyes and heart from Jesus? We must know what those things are and continually battle those to keep our eyes on Jesus.

4. Be conformed by obedience, not by your past life. Following Jesus is a constant battle of moving forward. It is easy to fall backwards, to look back. Our past is what we know. It is comfortable, like an old shirt. We know those places and those people and can easily slip back.


Holiness says freedom and life aren’t found there.

Conformed in 1 Peter 1:14 is a shaping word. We are shaped by our passions, by our loves. They determine who we are, who we become and ultimately where our lives end up. Sinclair Ferguson said, “Knowing whose you are, who you are, and what you are for, settles basic issues about how you live.” That is what Peter is talking about here.

If our former passions shape us, they determine where our lives end up. If the holiness of God, the way we are called to live, shapes us, that determines what we love and where we end up.

What if God Really Loved You? (Luke 15)

Do you believe that God loves you? Do you know and live like God loves you?

The words rang out through the room as I was sitting there.

In all honesty, I believed it. I knew it. I didn’t live like it, though.

Who does?

In talking with people and reading books, very few people live as if they believe and know God loves them. We read it in the Bible but do not live like those words are true.

In his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey shares this story: David Ford, a professor at Cambridge, asked a Catholic priest the most common problem he encountered in twenty years of hearing confession. With no hesitation the priest replied, “God.” Very few parishioners he meets in confession behave as if God is a God of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and compassion. They see God as someone to cower before, not as someone like Jesus, worthy of our trust. Ford comments, “This is perhaps the hardest truth of any to grasp. Do we wake up every morning amazed that we are loved by God?…Do we allow our day to be shaped by God’s desire to relate to us?”

The problem for many of us is that we read verses about God’s love for the world and us (John 3:16), that Jesus loves us (John 15:9), that God predestined us in love (Ephesians 1:4 – 5), that God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17), that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), that God draws us to himself (John 6:44). We read Paul saying over 160 times that as a follower of Jesus, we are “in Christ”, and yet we live each and every day as if God is disappointed in us, indifferent towards us, mildly happy with us or just “likes” us.

We’ll say things like, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Or, “Yes, God loves me, but I can’t love myself.”

When we say those things, we have made love and forgiveness something it is not. We have based that on our own definitions and life.

Read those verses that are listed above. Put them on your phone, your computer wall paper, tape them to your mirror. When you pray, you are praying to a God that knows everything about you and still listens and still loves you.

This is a daily battle we fight to remind ourselves that God loves us.

What is amazing to me in those verses is that God’s love towards us all happened and was promised before we were born, before we were on the radar of our parents’ minds.

Still struggling to believe it?

Jesus tells an amazing story in Luke 15. We meet a family, a father and his two sons.

The younger son comes and asks his father for his inheritance. In this culture, the younger sons were often seen as the rebellious, carefree ones. The older sons were the responsible ones. The oldest son received 2/3 of what the father had when the father died. Notice, the father isn’t dead. The remaining children received what was left after that. This son says, “I want mine now, before you are dead.” He is telling his father, “I wish you were dead.”

The father at this point would’ve had every right to beat and disown the son in this culture. Instead, the father gives it to him, which means he would’ve had to sell land. In this culture that is focused on the father, the people hearing this story would’ve been blown away by the audacity of the son.

The younger son leaves, takes his money, lives it up and spends it all. Then a famine comes to the land he is in. He is at the bottom, so hungry that he is wanting to eat the food pigs are eating.

The younger brother says, “I don’t believe in God and will define right and wrong for myself.” In the younger brother, Jesus gives us a depiction of sin that anyone would recognize. The young man humiliates his family and lives a self-indulgent, self-centered life. He is totally out of control. He is alienated from the father, who represents God in the story. Anyone who lives like that would be cut off from God, as all the listeners to the parable would have agreed.

There is another kind of mess that Jesus doesn’t want us to miss, and that is the mess the older son is in. The Pharisees, the ones who are religious in this culture, are like the older brother. The older son said to the father, “I have never disobeyed you.” But he doesn’t want the father either. The older son thinks what will save him is his obedience, his morality, and his good deeds. The older son believed his father should bless him because of all that he did. For the older son, Jesus is a helper but he doesn’t need a Savior; he can save himself. The older son obeys God to get things. God owes you answered prayers because of how you live. Older sons may do good to others, but not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. They are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor; they are feeding and clothing themselves. They serve on a serving team because that’s what you do, not because God has gifted them to do it.

Why is the older son angry at the father? The father has reinstated the younger brother. When the father says to the older son, “Everything I have is yours”, he isn’t lying. The oldest son gets 2/3 of the inheritance, and the other part was already given to the younger son. So, the father is spending the oldest son’s inheritance now on a son who is wasteful.

Both sons missed the father, and we often do the same.

This is often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The word prodigal means “reckless, extravagant, having spent everything.”

Jesus is trying to tell us this is what God our Father is like.

When the son returns and starts his speech, before he gets it out of his mouth, his father runs to him and throws his arms around him. In this culture, a father did not run. Certainly not to a son who rejected him like his did.

Not only does he welcome his son, but he throws a party. He gets a robe, the father’s robe. He reinstates the son.

Do you believe God loves you like that? That he would run to you and throw his arms around you?

Tim Keller said, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

That is the love God has for us.

The question we wrestle with is, will I wake up tomorrow and live like my Father in heaven has extravagant and reckless love and affection for me?

Praying to a God who Knows You (Psalm 139)

It’s hard to be known. It’s hard to let people in. If we’re honest, when it comes to life and relationships, it’s easier to hide. It’s safer to hide.

Many of us in relationships hide. We are afraid. We keep things to ourselves. Some of this is out of fear. We are afraid of what people would think if they knew everything about us.

We don’t want to disappoint people. We want to be liked, to be known, to be seen as having certain abilities.

Some of us jump into relationships and become dependent on the other person. We need to be needed, we need them to validate us.

Sometimes as we hide, we manipulate people to get what we want, to get them to think certain things about us.

Sometimes to be known, we’ll isolate ourselves so that someone will chase us. This tells us we are worth it. We’ll become detached in relationships so someone will say, “I need you.”

Sometimes to protect ourselves from being known and to feel safe, we’ll jump from relationship to relationship. We’ll change gyms, small groups, where we get coffee, we’ll change social groups, all in an effort to hide. I have a friend who the moment they get too close to people, they pull back.

Where does this come from?

From our earliest moments as a baby, we have a desire to be loved, to be known.

We also have a deep desire to be safe.

These desires travel with us into being adults. To the point (and often rightfully so) that we will do whatever it takes to be safe in relationships.

Ironically, for many of us the destructive patterns of isolation, hiding, manipulation and living out of fear or co-dependency are how we’ve learned to be safe.

We then take this to God and think, “This is what worked with my mom, my dad, my teacher, my boss, my spouse, and this must be how I relate to God.”

What if bearing ourselves to God is the only way to be safe? What if sharing our deepest hurt is the only way to move forward in our relationship with God and ourselves?

As one of my mentors says, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us.”

So how do you own your past? How do you own what has been done to you? How do you own your anger? Bitterness? Loneliness? How do you move forward in a way that brings about freedom instead of keeping you stuck?

The answer is prayer.

Philip Yancey said, “An important purpose of prayer is to let our true selves be loved by God.”

Prayer is a window into God’s love and God’s heart for us. It is a chance to give our heart and hurt to Him. It is a place to remove our fears, doubts and hurt.

Psalm 139 tells us that not only does God know us, but God is everywhere and is not scared of what He knows about us. God will not leave us.

What a promise.

What a reminder that freedom comes from no longer hiding.

How does this work in prayer?

Bring to God your hurts. Say out loud or in your head, “God, this is my fear. This is my pain. These are my doubts.” Name them. Naming things often takes away their power.

Invite, like the psalmist in Psalm 139 does, for God to know you. In fact, using Psalm 139 and simply praying that to God might be a great next step for you as you name things and invite God into this place (even though He’s already there).

I often find that thanking God for knowing me and not leaving me is a powerful prayer moment. It is an amazing reminder.