Role of Suffering in Building Character

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For the past three weeks we have looked at several overarching categories of the virtues that make up character, and next week we are going to end by talking about how to build and maintain character, so tonight is sort of a bridge between the two because we are going to continue looking at some of the virtues that make up character, but we are going to do it by looking at the role that suffering and trials plays in our character development. And there are two primary ways that suffering helps us as we seek to become women of character. First, suffering and trials reveal our character. Second, suffering develops our character.

SUFFERING REVEALS OUR CHARACTER

So let’s look at this first point, that suffering reveals our character. To start we are going to turn back to the story of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The first time we looked at this we talked about how the world has one version of what character is and it is built on a foundation that is faulty, like the house built on sand. But God’s version of character is like the house built on the rock because it’s built on a firm foundation. The next time we looked at this parable we talked about what the builders had in common which was that they both had knowledge of God’s Word. But the difference was found in whether they put it into practice or not. The one who did was called a wise man and the one who did not was the foolish man.

Now, I want to look at the houses from the angle of the storm. So my question for us is, what is the role of the storm in this parable? First, the storm represents trials in our lives. But even more, it revealed which was built on sand and which on the rock. So in essence, it revealed who was the wise builder and who was the foolish builder. So in this we need to recognize that before the storm came there was no visible difference between the two houses. It was the storm that revealed the unseen difference which in the end was the most crucial aspect of each house. So in the same way, the role of storms in our lives, or struggles/hardships/trials….is to reveal the good and the bad. To reveal in us areas that have been built on truth, and others that have not.

Using the storms in our lives to assess

Practically, how does this look in our lives? When this happens, when storms hit our lives, it doesn’t mean that we will be overall found to be wise or overall found to be foolish, like the houses. But instead, when the storms hit we will usually see a little of each. When we are struggling we will see areas where we have grown AND areas where we are weak and need to grow. Last week as I was thinking about this lesson I spent some time on my own thinking about this in the past year of my life. I have shared with ya’ll a little bit about a difficult situation I have been dealing with this year which involved specifically two people who I have really struggled with. And so I spent some time “assessing” myself in this struggle. I started by writing out the ways that I saw character growth in myself during this time, and I thanked God for that. Then I wrote out the ways that I failed to walk in a Christ like way and the character traits I need to grow in. That part was obviously not easy, but as I did it I felt freedom and clarity, and it also gave my struggles a much bigger purpose in my life and helped me to see the hand of God in them.

So this first point tonight is very simple. Suffering in our lives gives us a chance to honestly see how we are doing in our character development. And doing that gives us a chance, not to wallow in self-pity over areas where we have not grown, or even to gloat pridefully over our strengths…but instead, to celebrate how we have grown, see what God has done in us, and be affirmed by that, and then also to take an honest and humble look at the areas where we need to grow and focus on that moving forward. John Maxwell explains that we need to “examine the condition of our character” in times like these because, “unaddressed cracks in character only get deeper and more destructive with time.” (21 Indispensable Qualities, p.6) And that is the truth, if each time you face a trial in your life you ignore this chance to face your weaknesses honestly, then they will only get worse throughout your life, they won’t just go away.

Application

Think about how this applies to you today. What are the trials in your life right now? How are you struggling? In this struggle do you see ways that you have grown in the past? Have you taken the time and courage to face the ways that you still need to grow, the areas where you are weak? I really encourage you to do this this week as I did, don’t leave the cracks in your character unaddressed, this is one of the ways that you will develop character.

SUFFERING DEVELOPS CHARACTER

The second point tonight is that suffering develops our character. Or maybe I should say, it can. Trials are God’s way of refining and shaping us. But in order to do that we must have the right attitude and response. Let’s look at some scripture that speaks to this. First, let’s see what Paul says in Romans 5:3-4.

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Paul beings in verse 3 saying “not only so…” In the previous verse he had encouraged them to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” To find joy and encouragement knowing the hope they had in eternity. But then he catches himself, and he tells them to also find hope in things that are not as joyful at face value- sufferings. And he tells them to even rejoice in their sufferings. And then he tells them why in verse 4. He explains that when we suffer it builds perseverance in us, and that perseverance gives birth to character, and character gives birth to hope. Now keep this in mind and turn to, James 1:2-4.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James echoes the same sentiment as Paul, find joy in your trials! Why? Because trials test our faith, when our faith is tested it builds perseverance in us, and perseverance gives birth to maturity and completeness in Christ. And remember from the first week that the primary difference between the world’s version of character and God’s, is that the character we are striving for is that of Christ. So when James says that perseverance leads to maturity and completeness, he means Christlikeness, which is God’s version of character. So James is saying the same thing as Paul in Romans….trials develop perseverance which builds character.

Perseverance, Endurance, Steadfastness

If you look at both these passages in various translations you’ll see that three words are used interchangeably: perseverance, endurance, and steadfastness. So we see here that there are a few words in the English language that explain what Paul and James are trying to tell us about trials and what our response should be. Now, the reason why sometimes there are different words in different translations is that there isn’t an exact English correlation to the Greek word used, so translators do their best to express the “flavor” of the word. So sometimes I like to look at all the translations to get a really full understanding of what the author was trying to tell us.

Perseverance/Persevere – continuing in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or not prospect of success; steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay.

Endurance/Endure – to suffer patiently, specifically something painful or difficult without giving way

*So both words involve facing something difficult and how you respond to it

Steadfast/ness – resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering

Greek – In Romans and James the same Greek word is used that is translated as endurance/perseverance/steadfastness, hupomonen, which is a compound of two words, hupo and mone. The second meaning “endure” or “stay”, and the first is the preposition “under”. So in a Greek dictionary (Lexicon) this compound means literally to endure under something, or to stay under something that is pressing down on you and is difficult.

So now think about what they are saying when you combine all of those definitions of this one word. To persevere or endure means to actively move forward but also to passively suffer patiently and not give in. In addition it means to mentally make a resolution that you stand firm and not waver and to submit to what is pressing down on you. I think this is what James meant in chapter 3 when he said wisdom from God is submissive, we are wise to submit to the things God allows or brings into our lives, especially the difficult things

Now going back to the verses in Romans and James. What they both say is that when we suffer these things are developed in us. Our ability to persevere, to endure, to be steadfast grows stronger. But they only grow stronger as we choose to walk in them, not when we fail to choose them. So each time you are in a difficult situation and you choose to uphold a godly virtue, you develop it like a muscle so that you grow stronger in that area the next time you need it.

Can you think of other virtues that are strengthened or grow when we suffer and choose to walk in them? What are some other virtues that are connected to and developed through trials and suffering?

●       Self-Control2 Peter 1:5-6, the text we looked at the first week, shows there is a connection between self-control and perseverance. The definition of self-control is “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations” So this adds even more flavor to what it means to endure a difficult trial.

●       FaithHebrews 11 tells us about all the “heros” of the faith who show us what it means to have faith, and in verse 27 speaking of Moses it says, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” It was Moses’ faith that allowed him to persevere in a very difficult situation.

●       Courage Berg says, “Though endurance means to be constant under external pressures, it does not mean merely controlling our temper, gritting our teeth, waiting out the storm, or tying a knot in the end of our rope and hanging on. There is often an ethical issue at stake in endurance-a principal to be courageously defended….Kittel comments that ‘there predominates in [this word] the concept of the courageous endurance which manfully defies evil.” (p.72)

●       We could also add to this list patience, being teachable, and humility.

In his book Essential Virtues, Jim Berg (p.76-77) tells a story of how character development occurred throughout a certain woman’s life. He showed how her character was developed not in a few particular instances, but constantly throughout her life as she persevered through difficult situations. And as she did this it further prepared her for the difficulties she would face later in life. Do you see how subtle this works in our lives? Her character qualities slowly developed over time through small and large trials. Doesn’t that give you so much hope as you face trials today to know that it is going to make you that much stronger for the trials you will face in your future? John Maxwell says,

“Adversity is a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths: character or compromise. Every time he chooses character, he becomes stronger, even if that choice brings negative consequences.” (21 Indispensable Qualities p.4)

One of the things about the virtues that make up godly character that I hope you have come to see over the past several weeks is that not only do they grow as you practice each one individually, but they are also all connected. As you grow in one another also develops, and in the same way we can’t grow in one area unless we are growing in others. Think about all the virtues we’ve talked about the last few weeks and how intertwined they all are.

Role of Discipline

The last thing I want to talk about tonight is discipline. When we are being disciplined by God it feels very much like suffering. Discipline is one of the ways God corrects our disobedience to teach us to follow His ways. It is directly from Him and not malicious or spiteful. Instead it is infused with love for us and a desire from God our Father to see us grow more like Christ and enjoy the fruits of that. But even knowing that it is often hard for us to receive, much less see it as joyful and rejoice as James and Paul said. So let’s look at how the author of Hebrews says we should respond to God’s discipline in our lives. Read Hebrews 12:5-11

So in verses 5-6 he tells them that they should take God’s discipline seriously and not write it off or ignore it, but at the same time they need to keep in mind that He disciplines them because they are His children and He loves them. So when God disciplines them they should not “lose heart”….or despair, get depressed about it. It is actually a good thing! Then in the following verses he elaborates on this, how amazing it is that God sees us as His children! And that just as we respect our parents for the lessons they taught us we should even more respect and submit to God when He teaches us.

Then in verse 10 he reminds us of an amazing truth. He says that God disciplines us for our own good. So that we might become more holy. So that we might grow more like Christ…..grow in character. Similar to how fathers discipline their children…but better. The author of Hebrews ends here, in verse 11 saying, you will never like discipline, it will always be unpleasant and painful. But….

Later on…it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

As we read through the Proverbs we find many many verses that explain that discipline is the way to life and ignoring God’s rebuke will always lead to death. When we trust God’s discipline He promises that it will always be fruitful in our lives….there will always be a harvest of righteousness and peace in our lives because of it.

Isaiah 26:3 tells us,

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Conclusion

And this is what I want to end with tonight. Whether you are going through a trial that has been brought about by evil….or whether you are struggling under God’s discipline in your life….we are promised that God is allowing it for our good and that there will be fruit if we submit to it, receive it, engage in it, and allow it to do it’s work in our lives. Trust God in it and remember that His promises never fail and His love for you is unfailing. It’s all about perspective and how you choose to view it. And when we see it in this way then we will begin to see how much our character development is dependent on our attitude in suffering.

I asked you earlier to think about what you are struggling with currently and gave you some questions to help you assess how you are doing. Now I want to take that a step further and ask you if you are running away from your struggles, refusing to deal with them, or are you engaging in them allowing God to refine and shape you? Are you trusting Him and submitting to the trial He has allowed in your life, or maybe how He is disciplining you?

Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       How has a current struggle in your life shown you a strength or weakness in your character?

●       Who are people in the Bible who model for us how character is built through suffering? Discuss how they suffered and how they grew through it. (examples if needed: Mary, Ruth, Daniel, Joseph)

●       Why is it so hard for us to trust God during a trial or when He is disciplining us?

God’s Sovereignty Over Friendships

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This may be the lesson you have all been waiting for. As I began to prepare to teach this study I asked many women our age what they struggle with most in the area of friendships. Aside from conflict and interpersonal struggles, the greatest struggle that we face in our 20’s and 30’s, is maintaining old friendships, pursuing new ones, and learning to balance them all. One young woman in our study sent me an email explaining this in her life:

“I feel like the older I get the harder it is to invest and grow new friendships. I’m constantly juggling work with time with my husband and our respective families. Additionally, college and grad school were perfect places to grow friendships because you were able to see your friends on a day to day basis. I’ve really struggled with maintaining my current friendships and/or connecting with new friends as I feel like my life is so hectic and when I finally get any free time I just want to stay at home and relax. I truly get so frustrated as I would love to build my friendships! Does life ever settle down? If not, how can I try to manage my life in a way that makes room for more time with friends?”

We are at a unique time in our lives when these questions about friendship are really coming to the forefront and we do desire answers to help us as we move forward in our adult lives. I attended a speaker even at PCPC in the Spring for empty-nesters and I was shocked when the speakers spent a large portion of their talk telling these 50-somethings how to make friends. These women have lived twice as long as us and they needed to know the secret to making friends still. While this topic may seem a little silly to some, it is not, it is a life-long pursuit for women which comes from a deep desire for relationships that has been inside of us since creation. So let’s really take this seriously and really seek to know how we should view the area of friendship through out our lives. Because if we can ground ourselves now in a Biblical philosophy on friendship, then we can learn to live it out and turn to it each time any of these questions begin to surface, even when we become empty-nesters!

The essence of having a Biblical perspective on our friendships is grasping the truth that God is sovereign, even over our friendships. Throughout my life I have suffered from believing that the state of my “friendship life” is all about me. Failing to see God’s hand in bringing people in and out of my life and therefore, not understanding that God has purpose in every friend He brings across my path. When we don’t understand that God is sovereign over our friendships we try to take control, often controlling and manipulating in order to have the friends that we want for ourselves, forcing friendships that God might be taking out of our lives, being closed-minded about what God might have for us, and then living according to our own pre-conceived notions of how friendships “should look” and who we “should” be friends with. But when we come to understand that God truly is sovereign even over our friendships, it will transform how we view the friendships in our lives and keep us from that anxious way of living.

Turn in your Bible to Psalm 139. As you run your eyes over this Psalm, notice the general message of the Psalm. Verse 1, God knows us individually. Verses 2-4, He knows everything about us. Verses 7 -12 and 18, He is always with us, in our low times and our happy times, He sees and hears us. Verse 16, He wrote everyday of your life in His book before you were born. This is the truth that we need to start with. God knows you individually and cares about you specifically. He is concerned with every day of your life. Nothing is out of his sight or hearing, He is always with you. He knows everything about your life and everything that is in your heart. He is aware of all things in your life and He knows your needs and desires. This means that even in the area of our friendships, God is there and He cares. He knows when you need a friend and He knows when you need help knowing which friends to pursue, He knows and He cares. All of the struggles we listed earlier are not out of His eye-sight, He is intimately aware of your past, present, and future, and He cares about every detail of it and about your heart. And no matter what sort of joys or struggles you have faced in the area of friendships, He has been involved and He has been with you the entire time.

Now let’s look at Jeremiah 29:11-14 which says,

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.  12 ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  13 ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  14 ‘I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’” (NAS)

God had promised His people that He had great things in-store for them as He led them to the Promised Land. But when they were disobedient and turned their backs on the LORD, they faced the consequences of breaking the covenant with God. He allowed the Babylonians to overtake them and force them back to Babylon as slaves. When they were finally freed from captivity Jeremiah sent this letter from the Promised Land to the surviving elders of God’s people who had been exiled to Babylon. What we just read was a word from God specifically prophesied to give them hope and direction. So God says to them here in verse 11, I have a plan for you. You are not hidden from me. I am with you and I know where you are, I know your desires and needs, and I will never leave you. Try to imagine the relief they felt hearing that.

Then He goes on to describe this plan for them. It is a plan to prosper them, or as the NAS says, a plan for their welfare, their well-being. It is a plan that does not include harm or calamity. God’s plan gives them a hope and a future. These are all in contrast to what they have experienced due to their disobedience and trying to live life according to their own ways and their own plans. Verse 12 begins with the word “then”. God is not about to tell them the plan, instead He is going to tell them the result. This is what will happen as they obey and follow God, yielding to God’s plan for their lives.

First God says, they will call on Him, come to Him, and pray to Him. They will not seek other gods or other things of this world to satisfy them and tell them how to live. Instead they will live dependently on God. And in this they can know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He will listen. Every time the turn to Him, cry out, and ask Him for something, they will know that He has heard them and that He will act. Then, verse 13, they will seek Him with all their heart. They won’t turn to God half-heartedly, but they will turn to Him with their whole being, knowing that He is God and He cares for them. And when they do this, again, He says you will find me. He promises that this is a part of obedience, He will be there when we turn to Him. And finally in verse 14 He says probably the sweetest thing for them to hear. That when they do this, they can know, that He will free them from bondage. One version says they will be released from captivity (NIV) and another that He will restore their fortunes (NAS). Either way, it is saying the same thing, you will be free and you will have all you need.

While we are not the Israelites who have been living in exile in Babylon, the same principals of God’s love and covenant apply to us in our lives today.

  1. God has a plan for us. He does not just throw us down on earth to meander and generally do what He wants us to do and ultimately end up in the right place. No, His plan is specific and is intended for us to live out everyday of our lives. His plan includes all things in our lives, even our friendships. As we follow His plan for our lives we can know that He will bring people in and out of our lives for a purpose.
  2. In order to fully enjoy the results of God’s plan, we must learn to lay down our own plans, and follow Him. We must learn to yield to what He has for us, even when it is not even close to what we wanted for ourselves. With our friendships we have to learn to stop grasping for what we want and instead, receive what God gives us.
  3. And as we do this God promises us that we will see and find Him in the middle of it. As we seek Him we will find Him, as we call on Him we can know that He hears and He will answer. How much sweeter is it to know that God has orchestrated a friendship then to simply believe you are friends with the “right people”.
  4. And finally, God’s promise always involves freeing us from the things that hold us in bondage. When we turn to Him and follow Him, He promises that we will be released from the bondage of the world, the bondage of all those questions and struggles that we talked about earlier, and instead live in the freedom and joy of God’s plan for our lives.

As we learn to do this in our lives in the area of friendship, the greatest obstacle we will face is fear. Fear that God will not meet our relational needs, fear that He will give us difficult or trying friendships to grow us, fear that He won’t give us friends at all so that we’ll be more dependent on Him, fear that we won’t like the friends He gives us, or simply fear that the friends He gives us won’t be “cool” by the standards of the world. There are two passages that I think can speak to us in these fear.

First, look at Romans 8:28-29 which says,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Here Paul tells us that “in all things” God works for our good. In the literal translation we read that God causes “all things to work together for our good.” In all of our life, even in our friendships, God is working for our good. All of our friendships are purposed by God and will work together for our good, which means the good and the bad friendships. We can know that our good, which we are all very concerned about, is being taken care of! God is behind the scenes making this happen. All we need to do is trust Him and follow how He calls us to live. At the end of verse 28 Paul reminds us that we are called “for a purpose.” In verse 29 he reminds us what this purpose is: to be conformed to Christ. We must remember that even in our friendships God’s overarching purpose is to help us become more like Christ. Yes, there will be some tough friendships, there will be times when God is calling us to befriend someone that we don’t really want to be friends with…but we must remember that His end-goal is much greater than ours, and it is actually what we do desire, to be more like Christ. But we must yield to His plan in order to be made like Christ.

Now let’s look at Matthew 7:9-11. Nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the people to turn to God, to seek all things from Him, and that when they do, He will answer. This is very similar to what we read in Jeremiah. Jesus says this in regards to asking God for what we desire…

“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

When we open our hearts up to the Lord, sharing with Him our deepest longings and desires we should not fear that He will give us a “snake” or a “stone”. He is our creator, the one who loves us more than any parent, spouse, child, or friend ever will. He will never give you a difficult friendship or a time of loneliness to be malicious or to test you. God loves us, and when He brings friends in and out of our lives, we must remember that each is a good gift from the Lord that He intends to use in our lives to carry out His plan and purpose for us, to draw us closer to Him to be dependent on Him, and to refine us to make us more like Christ. In our flesh, this is not as appealing as having temporary and worldly satisfaction, but the truth is it is the better gift and as He said in Jeremiah, it is our hope and our future. We can trust Him.

Examples of God’s Sovereignty Over our Friendships

Pat: In The Friendships of Women, Dee Brestin shares about a friend who struggled with this and found the joy that God intended for her in it,

“One day [my friend Pat] said, with a  twinkle in her eye, ‘Dee, I’m not going to ask God to give me friends anymore.’ ‘But, why?’ I inquired. ‘Because I’ve done that three times, and three times the Lord has given me a friend who needed me a whole lot more than I needed her!’ I laughed, because I realized (as did Pat) that God knew exactly what He was doing. He knew Pat had the strength and wisdom to help hurting women. God may lead us to disheartened friends, for He knows what we can handle and what we can’t. (And then we have the choice to follow through in obedience or to flee.) God knows our strengths and our needs better than we do.” (p.205)

Nancy: At The Bridge when Nancy Turner talked about friendships in her life she told us that, even though her clear strengths were in relationships, God kept her on the move with her husband and allowed her to struggle with loneliness, she was forced to live in her weaknesses instead of her strengths. But, in that loneliness she saw that God wanted her to have more of Him, to cling to Him, to know that God means it for good, not harm. Through this she was taught the importance of being open to friendships with unbelievers and now she has learned to delight in the differences of others.

This is the bigger perspective that as believers we need to have in our friendships. This is what will help us persevere when we are in need of a friend or are struggling in a friendship. And this is what will give us great joy as we look back in our lives and see God’s purposes carried out through the different friends He has given us and taken away.

Practical Application

So let’s wrap up tonight by making some practical applications from what we have talked about. What does this look like for us tangibly? How does this Biblical perspective apply to the struggles and questions that were presented in the beginning of the study tonight?

Be Intentional to Pursue, Initiate, and Maintain

Many of our problems in friendships arise either when we fail to pursue others or when we feel we are the ones doing all the work. This is a very common struggle for women, but unfortunately, many women don’t rise to the challenge and they lose friendships because they weren’t willing to do the work. In The Fabric of Friendship Joy Carol talks about how this happens,

“All too often we take friendships for granted, believing that we don’t have to make an effort or put much energy, time, or resources to be a good friend or to have one. So we don’t nurture or take care of our relationships, and before we know it, they have somehow slipped to ‘the back burner’ of our lives. Most of us wouldn’t do this with our children, our families, our spouses, our partners, our colleagues at work. Yet we easily and repeatedly do it with our friends.” (p.168)

If we view our friendships as being given to us by God, then we must also realize that we have the responsibility to be good stewards of them, to do our best to invest in them and not take them for granted. We must be diligent and intentional to invest in what God gives us, because in doing that we reflect a perspective of God’s sovereignty in our lives and don’t operate in fear, and we will see the fullness and beauty of God’s plan for that friendship in our lives.

How do we be intentional in maintaining friendships?

To maintain old friendships we must learn to be the responsible one. To take it on our shoulders to call, write, and pursue. Remember what we talked about a few lessons back, friendship is about you being a friend to others, not whether they are good friends to you. It’s not about you. Take yourself out of the center and seek to be a good friend to your old friends. Don’t compare your efforts with theirs and walk away from a friendship because you don’t think they do enough. Dee Brestin talks about how much easier it is to let a friendship just fade rather than do the work of maintaining it,

“There may very well be a time under heaven to close the door on friendships, especially the loose ties. Each of us can maintain only a limited number of close ties. But I believe we too easily are closing doors on the ‘real connections,’ and falling into the world’s mold of impermanence and easy good-byes when we fail to be true to the people whose souls have been knit with ours.” (p.163)

If you feel God has brought someone into your life and is not yet taking them out, then don’t just let that friendship go. There is a balance between letting it go and forcing it in a way that it can’t work. Find your rhythm with that friend during busy times. Are emails better? Maybe snail-mail? Or simply try to call twice a year. At the Bridge Nancy Turner suggested that you be sure to be there for a friend or make contact during milestones of their lives such as weddings, funerals, birth of a child, birthdays, etc… She also suggested putting gatherings on the calendar every year for certain groups of friends, a lunch with college friends, a Christmas dinner for old colleagues, a weekend retreat for you and your best friend, a book club with your high school friends, etc… There is no formula, the bottom line is, make the effort and be responsible to do what you can to maintain old friendships.

How do we be intentional to initiate friendships? – Making new friends as adults is much harder than it was when we were younger. We are pickier and busier, and it takes a lot longer to build intimacy and trust. What Dee Brestin teaches women in this area is that we must learn to be risk-takers and initiators if we are going to continue making friends throughout our lives. We have to put ourselves our there to be able to even know if someone might be a good match for us as a friend. One of the “strategies” she gives she calls “Starting in the Middle” (p.123) She explains that the way to skip the superficial and get to the middle is by asking questions. Ask questions that probe deeper and deal with meaningful and personal issues, such as “When did you become a Christian?” or “What concerns have been on your heart lately?”

While I did show how the old classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, was founded on faulty, selfish motives, it truly does have some great pointers on how to get to know people and build friendships. So if you are struggling to make friends, don’t be ashamed to read the book that over 15 million people have read.

Pray that God will Provide and Guide

The next practical way that we can apply the Biblical perspective to our friendships is by looking to God as the one who gives and takes away. When you are torn and unsure about how to allocate your time, which friends to pursue, whether a friendship is coming to an end or not, turn to God and ask Him for guidance. Seek Him in the midst of it. If you are lonely and starving for deep friendship or just social friends, tell God how you feel and what you desire. At the Bridge this is exactly what Nancy Turner advised us as young women to do, to be prayerful about who to seek out when we have free time.

Matthew 7:7 tells us  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find…” And Matthew 21:22 says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” And in Proverbs 16:3 we are told to “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

This is the way we are called to live as Christians in God’s Word, so we might as well do it, even in the area of friendships. Dee Brestin describes the act of turning to God and seeking His guidance in friendships as intertwining our intuition with the leading of the Holy Spirit. And in this she emphasizes that you must not only be turning to God in prayer, but also be in His Word, reading it regularly. She says,

“The Holy Spirit never conflicts with the Word, so this must be the starting point. We know, for example, that Scripture exhorts us to encourage one another, carry one another’s burdens, and speak the truth in love. But knowing when and to whom to apply these principles involves an intertwining of intuition and the Holy Spirit.” (p.227)

Be Open to what God may have for you

The final point on how to practically apply Biblical principals to our friendships is that we learn to be open to whatever God may have for us. If God is the one leading our friendships, bringing them in and out of our lives for a purpose, then that means that many times He will be doing things that we never could have anticipated or imagined. Perhaps that means he brings someone into your life as a life long friend who you never would have imagined even being friends with, or the exact opposite, he takes away a friend who you thought would be in your life forever. This means that not only must we be sensitive to His hand in our lives, but we also must be willing to receive whatever it is He chooses to give us. As we think of this we can recall the two examples I shared earlier of Pat and Nancy.

In order to really be able to do this in our lives we will have to be sure that we don’t do four things.

1.     Don’t lean on human structures – What are human structures of friendships? It’s believing that there is a formula to friendships. A certain number of close friends we must have and a certain number of social friends. A certain way that our friendships should look. A certain way that we must carry on to maintain old friendships or make new ones. That there are only certain types of friends that we should have.

One of the worst ways we do this is by labeling some friends as “best friends.” Dee Brestin shares a story in her book about how a woman destroyed her closest friendship by putting the label of “best” on it and expecting that friend to live up to her understanding of what a best friend is (p.76). Joy Carol further explains this in The Fabric of Friendship, she says,

“Some women have unrealistic expectations about a “best friend” being all things for them. But that’s just not possible. No one can be all things to any one person, be it friend, sister, spouse, or parent. Many women end up being frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes dumped, because one friend really can’t meet all their needs.” (p.172-173)

In the book Boundaries they explain how we can lift this burden off of our “closest” friend and cultivate healthier friendships, they say,

“We all need more than God and a best friend. We need a group of supportive relationships. The reason is simple: having more than one person in our lives allows our friends to be human. To be busy. To be unavailable at times. To hurt and have problems of their own. To have time alone. Then, when one person can’t be there for us, there’s another phone number to call. Another person who may have something to offer. And we aren’t enslaved to the schedule conflicts of one person.” (p.115)

Dee Brestin talks about how she has done this in her own life saying,

“…I’ve found that I’m less demanding of each of these women and that having more than one special friend has been a fatal chop to the grasping weed that has choked the life out of best friendships in my past…we need to loosen our hold on our best friends! We need to encourage them not only to run to God but also to develop friendships with others.” (p.142)

2.     Don’t Exclude – Another aspect in not living according to the structures of the world is that we be cautious not to exclude others from our lives or from our friendships. We should not play favorites, as James emphasizes in the New Testament. Dee Brestin points out how guilty we are in the church of doing this and how we often fail to reach out to the new woman,

“Exclusivity can even happen in Christian circles. We may talk to only our friends at church, or have only our friends over for fellowship – while newcomers are left out in the cold…When your own needs for intimacy are being met, it’s easy to slide into complacency concerning the needs of others. If a newcomer does come, she senses the intimacy [that women already have] and feels like an outsider looking in. How diligent we must be to pray for the love of Christ to continually flow through us so that we continue to reach out to those newcomers with hearty welcomes when they arrive, along with extending invitations for coffee, and affirming e-mails.” (p.71)

If you have ever been the “new girl”, you are probably nodding your head because you have been there. If we say to this, “but my plate is too full and I need to focus on cultivating intimacy with my current friends.” then we are forgetting that God is the one who brings women across our path, and even if it is just to make someone feel welcome by saying hi or grabbing coffee, God still has great purpose in that.

3.     Don’t Live in Guilt

The final point in how we are to be open to whatever God has for us, is that we don’t wallow in guilt and regret over the past. We read in Romans 8:1 that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What this means is that because we are in Christ, we are forgiven. We are not to walk through our lives carrying the weight of our past sins and mistakes that we have confessed to the Lord. If you feel you failed a friendship in you past then you should actually find joy in knowing that you can confess your failings to the Lord and be fully forgiven. While there may still be consequences of that, such as the loss of that friendship, what God cares most about is that you repented and grew from it, and that you recognize that God will use even that lost friendship for your good and for His purposes in your life.

At The Bridge, both Carroll Turpin and Nancy Turner talked about this, encouraging us to not beat ourselves up over past mistakes and failings with our friends, and to not let feeling like a bad friend keep us from reaching out today to a friend we feel we have failed. Carroll said instead to, “Be happy about the friendships that do stick and thankful for the past ones even though they have faded.”

Questions to help you process and apply the lesson:

●       What keeps you from trusting God with your friendships?

●       What can you do to better maintain your old friendships?

●       Has God laid anyone on your heart lately to pursue?

When Friends Wound

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In the previous lesson we looked at how when friendships go wrong it is generally because we have a very self-centered view of friendship. We look to our friends to meet our needs instead of looking to God alone to meet those needs. When we look to God to meet our needs, then we are able to see our friendships as a gift from God and relationship in which we get the chance to extend God’s love and mercy. Friendship becomes about being a friend to someone else, not someone being a friend to us. And the key to being able to do all of that is humility, by humbling ourselves before God we are able to humble ourselves before others and truly be the kind of friend that God calls us to be.

While we know this is the ideal, we also know that we live in a sinful and fallen world, where conflict, tension, disagreements and hurt feelings between friends are inevitable. Much of what we look at applies to other relationships or our lives, however, we are only going to focus on conflict and forgiveness in our female friendships. We will spend the bulk of our time looking at the big picture of conflict resolution and forgiveness, but there are so many other complications and struggles that we won’t be able to deal with now, so I strongly encourage you to continue looking into these topics after tonight.

The Importance of this Topic

When it comes to dealing with conflict in a friendship what the Word of God calls us to do is completely counter-cultural. One author who wrote on forgiveness and reconciliation said he does not remember ever being taught the biblical way of forgiveness but instead, “being told: ‘Treat them with contempt.’ ‘Distance yourself from them.’ ‘Give them a cold shoulder.’ ‘Teach them a lesson.’ ‘They must be punished.’ Or other suggestions of that sort.” (Total Forgiveness, p.8) I’m not sure if it was his parents that taught him that or just the world around him, but I can certainly relate with hearing that message growing up. Whether it is from those you are close to or simply media sources, we have all heard that message and there is something deep within us that resonates with it. When a friend is difficult or hurts us it sounds right to either walk away or hurt them back. But this is not at all what the Bible teaches us so we must prepare ourselves for the fact that what God’s Word says will not sound as appealing and will even sound practically ridiculous and self-abasing. But as believers we must resolve to believe that what the Bible says on this topic and then we must commit to live it out in our lives. As we studied last week when we talked about humility, we must continue to remember that without humbling ourselves this won’t work. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” In order for forgiveness to take place between two people, “blood will have to be shed.” The first blood shed was Christ, but we are to live as Christ and to die as Christ. This means that for two people to reconcile we must be willing to lay down our lives, to die to ourselves, for the sake of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Our Calling as Christians

The most important thing that we understand is that we are called as followers of Christ to live lives of reconciliation. To extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness because of our belief and obedience in Christ. We are continuously reminded of this in the New Testament. Jesus prays to God in John 17:23 asking that those who follow Him, “…be brought to complete unity…” And throughout the epistles we read a message of keeping peace and unity in our relationships.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you…Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy…” And when asked what the most important commandments to follow are Jesus responded by saying to love God and “to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Eph 4:3, Rom 12:18, 2 Corinth 13:11, Heb 12:14, Mark 12:33).

We are called to strive to live at peace with all people, to seek unity. This is not a suggestion from God, it is how He commands us to live. In this way we are called to live in peace and unity with our girlfriends. We also read in the Bible that our forgiveness is related to the forgiveness that God gives us. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:12/Luke 11:4) we are told to ask God to forgive us our sins just as we forgive those who sin against us. And throughout the New Testament we are told to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. The forgiveness that we extend to others is reflective of the forgiveness that God gives to us. Stop and think about what God’s forgiveness looks like and then the fact that you are called to forgive others in the same way.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-19

This short passage summarizes the gospel, this is what we believe and what our lives should be characterized by. Reconciliation is what being a Christian is all about. We now see the world through those lenses. This is why in verse 16 he says that we are to no longer regard others through a worldly lenses, instead we are new creations (verse17) who are able to now view others through the lenses of the gospel. And as we do that, and as Christ love compels us (verse 14), then we are able to live as Christ and reconcile with those around us. And in verse 19 he says this message of God’s reconciliation has been committed to us, we are to live it out because God has first lived it out for each of us.

In Chris Braun’s book, Unpacking Forgiveness, he tells us that “Biblical forgiveness is motivated by love for neighbor and love for God. It is for God’s glory and our joy.” (p.65) What he is saying is that while there are many benefits to forgiveness and reconciliation, our motivation to live it out should be because God calls us to do it, it glorifies Him, and it is how God has dealt with each of us. We should not be motivated by self-interest.

Some Distinctions

As we talk about conflict and forgiveness it helps to understand the differences between the types of breaches that can occur in a friendship. I am going to give you 3 categories that will help us to understand this:

  1. Sin – when someone commits a sin against another person according to God’s standards
  2. Offense – when someone is hurt by the actions of another, generally involving a mis-understanding, mis-communication, or lack of sensitivity and resulting in suffering and burden on the other
  3. Disagreement – when two parties do not agree (the difference here is that there is nothing wrong with disagreeing but it often leads to sin or an offense)

*Often a breach in a friendship involves more than just one of these

In the Peacemakers Ministry they help us to understand the distinctions by drawing a big circle that represents the fallen nature of our world, the lack of perfection due to sin. Then they draw a smaller circle within the larger circle and label it sin. Peacemakers explains that “All sin is a result of the fall, but not all of the struggles we experience related to our fallenness is sin.” (Peacemaking Women, p.106)

What sort of actions that occur in friendships would you put in the fallenness circle but not in the sin circle? Women often encounter these things in their friendships. Miscommunication, lack of sensitivity, or just simple disagreements. In Peacemaking Women they give an example of when one woman was burdened and distracted at work with a case she was working on, deep in thought she passed by someone who smiled and said hello without a word. She didn’t hear the woman because she was so distracted. But the other woman didn’t know this and thought she was mad at her. She carried that within her, burdened and hurt until finally a few days later she asked her friend if she was mad at her. While hurt feelings and disagreements are legitimate breaches in friendships, we must understand that they are not sins. They often lead to sin, but in and of themselves they are not sin. However, they all require forgiveness and reconciliation to take place on some level in order for us to live in unity and peace with one another. Peacemaking Women explains that,

“Sometimes, in conflict, we need to confess our sins to one another. At other times, we need to acknowledge how we have offended them out of our fallenness…An acknowledgement of hurt and a request for forgiveness is an act of love that profoundly assists others to obey God by getting rid of their rage, bitterness, and anger…Some people are reluctant to apologize when they don’t believe they sinned. Let us not be those people. Only as we genuinely acknowledge another’s hurt, even for unintentional offenses, do we experience the blessing of a reconciled relationship.” (p.107-108)

So as we move forward we need to be thinking of all three of these categories in our conflicts with friends and learn to apply God’s Word to them all.

PREVENTION

Proverbs 17:14 says, “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” One of the biggest lessons that the Bible teaches us on conflict is to avoid it. Here it says that when you begin a quarrel with someone, you are unleashing the flood waters, so you better think about whether it is the right thing to do or not. The first thing I want to talk about in conflict-resolution is prevention. And there are 4 points to make in regards to how to avoid conflict, or prevent it.

Be Wise and Discerning

Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion/wisdom makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” The first thing we must do when we are upset or someone is upset with us, is to walk in wisdom. Here it says wisdom makes a man slow to anger.

Look at James 1:19-21. He says that in wisdom we should be slow to speak or become angry, and eager to listen. Listening before reacting is part of being wise. Then he connects our desire to react in our flesh to evil. It is important for us to remember Ephesians 6:12 which tells us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” When we are in conflict with our friends we must remember that there are evil forces in our world driving us and driving our friends, the only way we can counter that is by walking in God’s wisdom and looking to Him.

Clothe ourselves with Christ

The second way that God’s Word tells us we can prevent conflict is by clothing ourselves with Christ, or in other words, living out the characteristics of Christ that we are taught in the Bible.

Colossians 3:12-14 and 1 Peter 4:8 say,

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

We read a couple of weeks ago that Jesus told his disciples that to love a friend means to lay your life down for your friend.  Here Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with the characteristics of Christ in order to be able to do this. And we are told that when we do this our love will cover over a “multitude of sins” and we will be able to bear with each other’s weaknesses and forgive our grievances. Generally when we feel hurt by a friend or are being told that we hurt a friend, we clothe ourselves with things like pride, defensiveness, blameing, justifying, coldness, and insensitivity. But here we are told to clothe ourselves with the love of Christ. As we do this we will develop sensitivity towards our friend and be willing to work through things and understand them. We will then also begin to understand that they are sinners in need of grace just as we are.

Evaluate Yourself

This next point may be the hardest one to do. Read Matthew 7:1-5. Most of us have heard this passage before. What is the plank in our own eyes that must be dealt with before we can deal with the speck in our friends’ eye? Many will say it is the same sin that we are pointing out in our friend or some might say it is a bigger sin than the one we are noticing. RT Kendall in Total Forgiveness sheds an even broader light on this,

“This verse candidly shows how we tend to get upset over small issues (the ‘speck of dust’) in another person’s life and yet so easily overlook the big issues (the ‘plank’) in our own lives. This lack of objectivity…render[s us] incapable of passing judgment on another person” (p.122)

Peacemaking Women explains the plank as often being,

“…personal sins or idols that prevent us from being able to accurately see our situation, God, and others…[it] can greatly distort our ability to know the truth and be transformed…We may be tempted to minimize our sins and contributions to a conflict because we really want to get to the part about confronting our [sister].” (p.96)

So what Jesus is saying here is not that it is wrong for us to point out faults or sins in other’s lives, but that if we are not doing it in our own lives then we are unqualified to do it in other’s lives. Generally when I am upset with a friend there is underlying sin in my heart that has caused me to be so offended and to not see my own sin. Once I deal with my own sin, if I still feel I need to talk to my friend, then I can because I have dealt with the plank in my own eye. Proverbs 16:2 reminds us that, “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Even if you think you are innocent and without sin in a situation, take the time to ask God about it and for Him to show you if there is sin or bad motives in your heart.

This also applies to those of us who have ever been confronted by a friend for the sin in our lives or a way we have sinned against or hurt a friend. In Total Forgiveness (p.124-125), Kendall reminds us that we should humble ourselves and receive our friend’s rebuke in love. We can use these situations to evaluate ourselves and grow in holiness. There is always a little bit of truth in what our friends observe about us so he says to agree with them, or to at least let them know you understand where they are coming from, and then thank them for coming to you and being vulnerable. Never defend yourself, make them look bad, or try to make yourself look good. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When a friend comes to you angry, respond with a gentle answer and it will put out the fire and begin you down the road to reconciliation. Proverbs 27:6, “The wounds of a friend can be trusted.” When a friend does this, trust their intentions and use it as a chance to be refined.

Overlook Grievances

At The Bridge four weeks ago Carroll Turpin’s final words to us was to let go of our frustrations with our friends, and she reminded us that when we do this God lifts the burden we feel and we are able to just love them and be their friend. Proverbs 12:16 says, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” and Proverbs 20:3 says, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” While many of us might think it is weak or cowardly to ignore the things that frustrate us about our friends or their offenses, the Bible says that it is wise and honorable to do so. There are many things we can’t do this with, such as legitimate sins that need to be dealt with or deep wounds that need healing. But there are also many things that we should do this with.

In Unpacking Forgiveness, Braun says

“…most of us need to admit there has been a time when we insisted on pursuing a matter because ‘it was the principle of the thing.’ Looking back on it we have to admit that it was foolish to pursue it. It was never that important in the first place…This brings us to an important truth: we do not need to formally resolve every conflict that takes place. Some offenses need to be dropped…it is a matter of wisdom and discernment. Each time you are offended, you need to wisely decide whether or not you need to bring it up.” (p.97-98)

Summary of prevention: The truth is that if we can learn to implement these four things in our friendships and especially in the very beginning of tension or conflict, then 99% of the time the conflict will never become full blown.

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

We all know that full blown conflict, disagreements and hurt feelings will come, even when we try our best to prevent them. So now let’s touch on a few Biblical principals of conflict resolution and forgiveness. Then we will briefly talk about reconciliation.

Conflict Resolution

Read Matthew 5:23-24 and Mark 11:25

When conflicts go undealt with and are unresolved, God knows what is in our hearts even if no one else does, and we are commanded to take care of these issues. When they go undealt with and fester within us, they impede our worship and fellowship with God. It is an urgent matter to God that we deal with our hurts and conflicts in timely manners. Ephesians 4:30-32 tells us this same thing,

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

When we leave issues unresolved in our hearts, harboring bitterness, anger, and all sorts of negative emotions, it says that we grieve the Holy Spirit within us. He says we need to seek the kindness and compassion of God instead and seek forgiveness.

Once we have done the 4 steps that were listed before, if we still believe the issue needs to be dealt with then we need to go to that person to talk about it. In Joy Carol’s book The Fabric of Friendship, she emphasizes throughout her book the importance of communication between girlfriends. She explains that as women we tend to avoid having to talk about issues and instead let things fester inside of us hoping it will magically go away, but when we do this it will eventually destroy the relationship. So we must be committed to be friends who communicate openly and receive what the other says. This commitment also means that we don’t confront friends in passive ways such as through emails or text message, or dropping hints in everyday conversation, but we respect and love them enough to do it face to face and in honest, open dialogue.

Many of us fear doing this because we don’t want to be seen as the bad guy or lose our friendships, but 1 John 4:18 reminds us that “there is no fear in love” but instead “perfect love drives out fear”. When we approach a friend with the right motives we are walking in love and therefore we should not be fearful. It is a good and healthy thing for friends to communicate over harder issues.

Forgiveness

Read Romans 12:17-21

This passage gives us a great picture of what forgiveness is and isn’t. Paul tells us two things regarding how to respond when someone hurts us. First, he says to not seek revenge. What are some of the ways that we as women might seek revenge on friends who hurt us? We give them a “cold shoulder” or leaving them out. We often say bad things about them to others and even believe bad things about them in our hearts and image putting them in their place someday. One of the most important parts of forgiveness is that we do not seek revenge in any of these ways. But we actively push these thoughts out of our mind, knowing that all sin will be held to account by God Himself. It is not our place to judge. Our place, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:38-42, is to turn the other cheek. This means that we are not to slyly talk about it with other people so they know how right you were and how wrong your friend was. We are not to cut them out of our group of friends or even out of our own lives, that is not true forgiveness.

Second, he says to actively seek to love that person. In verse 17 he says to be careful to do what is right, then in verse 18 he says to do what you can to live at peace with them, and then in verse 21 to overcome the evil by doing good. He even gives us an example of this in verse 20 saying that if the one we are in conflict with is hungry, then feed them. Braun says, “Paul’s point here is that love should show itself in our lives even when we are wronged. Christlike love actively seeks and offers peace…Rather than lying in bed picturing how we might retaliate, we are to use our mental energy creatively to plan a response that will end the cycle of violence.” (p.135) This is a very hard, and even awkward thing to do after a break in a friendship, but it is the right thing and God will bless us as we do it.

Now let’s look at Matthew 18:21-22, “The Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” What is Jesus’ point? None of us would keep track of the 77 times we have forgiven a friend for something so that the 78th time we could know we don’t have to forgive. The point is that God never gives us a way out of forgiveness. We are commanded to forgive and expected to forgive. No matter what a friend has done to you, and how many times, God’s desire is that you come to truly and totally forgive them in your heart. Sometimes forgiveness is a one time thing, but most of the time it is a daily thing.

Reconciliation and Restoration

A question that as believers we often struggle with is, “Can you forgive a friend who does not think they have done anything wrong and are not repentant?” When we have a falling out with a friend, reconciliation should always be our goal, not winning the battle. For forgiveness to be full and total there must be reconciliation. When we forgive someone fully then we have reconciled in our hearts and should no longer carry malice towards them. We are free of that yoke and able to move on, even thinking positive and loving thoughts about that person, which means that individually we have reconciled our hearts towards them. So yes, you can forgive someone without their repentance. However, a relationship can only be fully reconciled and restored when both people have fully forgiven the other.

After talking about a situation in her own life when a friend would not forgive or reconcile in a friendship, Dee Brestin says,

“The most difficult time to give a friend unfailing love is when we’re feeling as though they no longer care deeply for us. Our carnal nature desires to inflict pain, not extend kindness! And yet, when we give unfailing love to a person who doesn’t seem to deserve it, that is when we are most like Christ.” (p.170)

Once a relationship has been reconciled on both sides, then you can begin working towards restoring the relationship, although this could take days or it could take years, and even then it may never fully be restored to what it was before. Peacemakers helps us to understand this by explaining that reconciliation is an event that must happen, and restoration is a process to slowly restore the relationship. This means that until forgiveness and reconciliation have occurred in the hearts of both involved, restoration cannot take place.

Boundaries

Another question that we struggle with is, “Is it ever ok to walk away from a friendship or distance yourself from a friend?” When reconciliation is not two-sided and restoration is not able to happen, this is when we must begin wisely discerning what our friendship with that person should look like. Dee Brestin has an entire chapter on this in The Friendships of Women and the book Boundaries was written to help Christians navigate what this looks like, while still extending Christ’s love to people.

Dee Brestin talks about how in the Bible “the fool” is someone who we should be cautious of and are told to distance ourselves from. In Proverbs the fool is defined as someone who is always right in their eyes and never seeks advice, practices deceit, lacks good sense, is easily and outwardly annoyed, and says things that create dissension (Prov 12:15, 14:8, 15:2, 12:16, 18:6, 27:3). When I was talking recently to a friend in her 50’s about issues in friendships she said that it is having a teachable spirit that makes the difference in whether a friendship is going to last or not. A fool does not have a teachable spirit.

The book Boundaries further explains this issue we can have in friendships,

“Any confusion of responsibilities and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries…we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t…this is one of the most serious problems facing Christians today. Many sincere, dedicated believers struggle with tremendous confusion about when it is biblically appropriate to set limits.” (p.27)

If you have a friend who does not accept responsibility for their own actions, is unrepentant, does not have a teachable spirit, and constantly hurts you even though you have approached her in love about it, then it is imperative that you understand what is your responsibility and what is hers. If you have done what you can to carry out the Biblical mandate to reconcile and forgive, but your friend is not taking on her part in it, then there is really nothing else that you need to be doing other than being sure to forgive, not seek revenge, and love her with the love of Christ. But without her taking on her responsibility then there can be no restoration of the relationship.

Boundaries tells us, “What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can’t change them or make them behave right.” There will be times in our lives when the right thing to do is set boundaries with our friends or even separate ourselves from them. But this never means that we ever stop extending the love of Christ to them. Setting boundaries in our relationships is truly about exercising wisdom and discernment, it is never about impulsively reacting to our friends out of pride and self-protection. If you think that you may need to do this in your life I really encourage you to read this book to get a bigger picture of what it looks like if you have relationships such as this that you are struggling with.

Conclusion

As we close we should remember Psalm 55 that we looked at in our first week of this study. In this Psalm David has been betrayed and deeply hurt by a friend. He cries out to God and reveals the aching that is in his heart. But in verse 22 he shows us how to move on and where his hope comes from. He says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” This is also the same hope that we have in the difficult places in our friendships. As we struggle to prevent and manage conflict in our female friendships we must hold tight to Christ and the hope that we have in Him.

Questions to help you process this lesson:

●       As you review the four ways that we can help prevent conflict in our friendships, which is the hardest for you to do?

●       Think about the forgiveness that God has given you and all the aspects of it. What part of God’s forgiveness do you struggle to extend to others?

●       Think of a hurtful relationship in which you have had to distance yourself. How have you continued to extend the love of Christ to this person? Have you fully forgiven them or is there still malice in your heart towards them?

Questions to help you prepare for the next lesson:

●       How have you actively maintained old friendships as you move forward in life? (think about high school, college, grad school, etc… friends)

●       Is there a close friendship from your past that has faded due to life change and distance? What could you have done differently?

●       How have you pursued and made new friendships in your current stage of life? What obstacles and struggles have you faced in doing this?

●       How do you find balance in your busy life to cultivate and maintain friendships? Do you think it has been a priority for you?

Female Friendships

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Of all the people I know, I feel that I am the most unqualified person to teach on the topic of friendships. Last week at The Bridge, one of the women on our panel, who is 50, started by saying the exact same thing, and I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. As I have spoken to more and more women about this, I have found that not a single woman feels that she is a “pro” at friendships, in fact, most feel they have not figured it out at all. I have talked to women in their 20’s and 30’s, and women in their 40’s and 50’s, and what I have found is that the struggles and issues are all very common, and so is the frustration and confusion over what to do about it. Yet, as much as we vent our frustrations over friendships, and share our common struggles, very rarely do we intentionally seek Christ-centered solutions and answers that will change the way we view all of our friendships. Instead we tend to look to the culture for answers and respond in very self-protective ways.

As I have thought about this in my own life and also in my friends’ lives, I felt there couldn’t be a more relevant and needed study for us in our lives right now. Just like you, I am facing the challenges of managing friendships as a young adult. While I have been out of college now for 10 years, I still long for the simplicity of school friendships…every girl you meet is a potential friend, you live the exact same life as your friends, and you even live at times only doors apart. I almost feel as if our first 20 years of friendships actually set us up to really struggle as we transition into friendships as adults because they look so different. Our friends no longer live doors down and our lives are often in different stages. We are overwhelmed with friends from several areas of our lives and suddenly have very little time to invest into relationships. And no longer do we consider someone a friend only because of one thing we have in common, friendships take longer to build. It is a new and difficult place we find ourselves in as young adults. As we begin to look into this subject we are going to start by familiarizing our selves with the issues and really begin to understand why it is a big deal for each of us to grow in this area and the pit falls involved.

Why are friendships so important to women? The first question we need to ask is, Why are friendships so important to women? While much of what we talk about can apply to both men and women’s friendships, we are going to specifically focus on female friendships. In my research, every single resource I found, whither secular or Christian, stressed that women’s friendships and their need for deep connection with other women is very different from men’s. And the struggles women face in their friendships with one another are also very different because of that gender difference. When looking at children we see this dynamic stressed. Author Zick Rubin studied the differences between boys and girls in this area and wrote about it in his book, Children’s Friendships, he says, “Girls not only have a much stronger need for friendship than boys, but demand an intensity in those friendships that boys prefer living without.” He explains that girls are more demanding, empathetic, and confiding in their friendships than boys, and their friendships are much closer because of that. Girls care how their friends feel about them and often take the time to communicate to each other their feelings. We can see these things in the friendships of women in more discreet ways. Women long to be known and to know one another. We want to be heard, understood and loved. We care about what our friends think of us and we often let them know our feelings for them. While men care more about status, we care more about connection with others. And when our lives are lacking in a deep connection with at least one other woman, we suffer.

As we look at the Bible to understand why we are this way, there are no explicit answers. But when we read the creation account in Genesis we can know two things that help us to accept those differences. First, God created us man and woman. God is the one who made the distinction. He not only intended men and women to be different from one another, He actually created us differently. Second, in Genesis 2:18 we are told that after creating man, God recognized that he needed a companion because it was not good for him to be alone, so He created woman. So from the beginning of time, woman was created to provide companionship, to create community, so that no one would be alone. As we read through the Bible we do see examples of the intimacy that women seek with one another. We read about it in the friendship of Mary (the mother of Jesus) and her cousin Elizabeth, and we see it in the bond between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.

Now, as we seek to understand the dynamics of our friendships with women, it is very important that we not only understand this first point, but that we also accept it. I have always struggled with the complications of female friendships and the strange ways I have felt other women act and treat each other, often believing that I was different. When I am frustrated with a friend I generally turn to my husband and say something like, “Urgh, why are women so complicated??”, and he will give me that look that says, “Yes honey, why are ya’ll so complicated?” I am referring to all other women but me, and he is specifically thinking of me. The bottom line is, statistics and life experience prove that we are all uniquely created to be women, and while levels of “girliness” may vary, we can’t change that we are women even if we don’t want to accept that we are. So we might as well begin accepting it and learn how to use it for good and not evil.

The Good side of Female Friendships. Let’s talk about how our female friendships can be used for good or evil. We’ll start with the good, what is the “good” that can come from being a woman and having female friendships? Many studies have been conducted to understand the intricacies of female friendships and the good (and bad) that comes from them. Here’s what they have found…

●       You may have heard of the recent study done by UCLA in 2000. Gail Berkowitz wrote an article explaining the findings of a UCLA study conducted in 2000 on women and she tells us…

“Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women…In fact…it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress responses in a woman, it…encourages her to tend children and gather with other women…When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men…The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.”

So this study showed that women have a unique hormone that causes them to turn to their friends during times of stress and trial to reduce stress and calm them down, it actually improves their health. Many other studies have also shown that women’s friendships improve their health by reducing risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. They have all concluded that friends help us live longer.

●       Berkowitz also shares in her article that one study showed that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. And in another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

●       A famous Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants is as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight. When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were generally not as fortunate

●       A 14 year study of 1500 women at Flinders University in Australia showed that close friendships prolonged women’s lives more than close family ties. The women with good friendships outlived those without by 22% and the women with at least one close friend were healthier and more psychologically fit than the women with half-a-dozen grandchildren.

●       Duke University did a study on unmarried women with coronary heart disease and found that those with close friends lived at least 5 years, which was double the life span of those without close friends.

●       Stanford University did a similar study on women with advanced breast cancer and found that those with a close friend they could share their feelings with were more likely to survive.

These findings are pretty incredible! In addition to the research done to prove that friendships benefit us physically and decrease the stress and anxiety in our lives, one studied proved it improves our marriages. Research done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed that women with strong friendships have closer marriages. The researchers said that one of the reasons was that women with close friends did not burden their husbands with all of their emotional needs. And the Roper Organization found that friendships are what give the majority of people a sense of their identity. So friendships also tell us who we are and what to believe about our selves, which helps provide emotional and psychological stability.

What does the Bible say are the benefits of friendships? As we look at these findings we might wonder, what do they have to do with the Bible and God’s Word? Well, everything, because God is the one who carefully crafted us to be this way. It is because of the creator that we are relational beings and that we are incomplete without relationships in our lives, and that when the relationships in our lives are “off”, life is not good. God even offers for us his own “case studies” on friendships telling us the basic benefits of them. In Ecclessiastes 4:9-12 we read that friends help us increase our profit in business, pick us up when we fall down, keep us warm when we are cold, and defend us when we are attacked. The Bible is telling us the practical benefits of friendship, not being alone!

Then in Proverbs 27:17 we read that a friend sharpens us as iron sharpens iron. This means that friends sharpen us, make us better people. We grow dull without a friend to sharpen us. Friends provide us with perspectives and thoughts we couldn’t come up with on our own, and they round us out, helping us to see the areas where we need to improve and grow.

In Psalm 133 David gives us descriptions of oil being poured on Aaron’s head and the dew of Hermon on Mt. Zion as pictures of things that are good and right. They are like those moments in life when you feel joy and peace bubbling up inside you because you know that moment is perfect and good. David says when our relationships are like that, in those brief moments of peace and unity with others, it is truly the blessing of God. He says in the last verse, that there is where God’s blessing is found, in a right and good relationship. So, not only are there all of these physical and practical blessings to be had when relationships are healthy, but there are also spiritual blessings that we could never fabricate ourselves, they are there because God blesses our healthy relationships. There are great examples of this in the Bible that we will look at as we move forward in the study, but tonight I just want us to each grasp the overview of how friendships benefit our lives, and how as women we are uniquely crafted to need them.

What makes Female Friendships so difficult? The truth is, if it weren’t for the struggles we face in friendships, then we would not need a Bible study on friendships. Because of that, we will focus at times more on the problems than the joys, but we will do it in order to find solutions so that we can enjoy the benefits and blessings of healthy friendships. So, the second question we need to ask right now is, What makes female friendships so difficult?

Here, I just want us to focus on two things. First, no matter who you are, you have and will, face struggles and difficulties in your female friendships. Those who have spent their careers studying the dynamics of female friendships have all concluded that the reason for the problems we face in our friendships is rooted in our unique make-up and needs as women. Ironically, our deep desire for connection is actually one of the root causes of the problems in our friendships. Secondly, one of the biggest factors, which we will talk about next week, is that we have skewed perceptions of what friendship is and should be. Many of us in this room never had healthy friendships modeled to us as children, we were left to figure it out on our own and in our own flesh. Others, were taught well and had great models to look at, but have faced some of the struggles and pitfalls of female friendships that are inevitable. So it is important that we all recognize that problems will come and that we do need to be prepared to respond in Christ-centered ways when they do.

As we think through some of the struggles and difficulties we have faced in our friendships with women there are many items on that list. Here is a long list of things that I have seen in my friendships and in those around me, and while this will sound exhaustive and even silly at times, we all know it is true and still occurs even in our adult Christian friendships…

Issues we face in female friendships:

●       Jealousy

●       Envy

●       Competition

●       Comparison

●       Conflict and tension left unresolved or not well dealt with

●       Unforgiveness

●       Differences in how to resolve a conflict

●       Baggage over past hurts and scars that interfere in current friendships

●       Feeling left out or not important to the other

●       Judgment and disapproval

●       The loss of a “connection” or even one deciding they just don’t like the other

●       Personality or Background differences

●       Fear of rejection resulting in self-protective behaviors

●       Anger and aggression, both passive and active, over a perceived wrong

●       Lack of time to cultivate and maintain friendships

●       Being overwhelmed by the number of friends in your life

●       Friends in different stages of life which make it hard to relate

●       Lack of vulnerability, transparency, depth

●       Having expectations and standards that are not met

●       Misunderstandings

●       Poor communication or communication differences

●       One-sided friendships where one feels like she does all the reaching out

●       Needy friends who drain you

●       Self-centeredness and perceived lack of concern for the other

●       Change – life change and personal change

●       Friends who wound you

●       Faith and life-view differences

●       Poor responses to conflict, such as passive aggression, avoidance, and attacking

A study on the factors involved in suicides showed that attempted suicides in women often follow a loss of a relationship, both with men and women. Many women have faced so much pain and woundedness in friendships that they have withdrawn from them all together and shut out all forms of intimacy with other women. After looking at the simple truth that friendships bless and benefit us, it is sad to see how so many women are kept from that in their friendships. God’s Word even attests to the heartbreak we feel over broken relationships. Psalm 55 we read David’s heartbreaking lament over a friendship gone wrong. He cries out to God, sharing the extreme pain he is feeling and shares his longing to simply flee from life because of it. A dear friend, who he had once shared sweet friendship and fellowship with in the house of the Lord, has betrayed and turned on him.  The truth is that there is great pain and heartbreak in a friendship that has gone bad. Sometimes we tend to want to just brush it off, move on, blame the other, and pretend its not a big deal. But it is. And it stays with us. So that is why we are going to focus on this for 5 weeks.

Summary. Here’s what I want to propose to you as we enter into this study. That the problem is not in the fact that women are uniquely made and desire deep connections with other women. And the problem is not in the fact that this longing combined with our sin and the work of the evil one results in relational struggles and even the destruction of some friendships. But the problem is that we approach friendships from a very worldly and self-centered perspective, and until we understand how God desires us to view friendship we will have no hope of living in the incredible blessings He has for us in our friendships. Bu the good news is, there is hope. At the end of Psalm 55, David says in verse 22…

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

Let this be our prayer for our friendships, that God will sustain us as we seek to glorify Him in them, knowing that as we do this He will not let us fall.

Spend some time thinking through these questions to prepare for next week:

●       How would you define the words “friend” and “friendship”?

●       What expectations do you have for your friendships? How do you think a “real friend” should act? (Be honest, if its hard to think of, then think about past friendships that have struggled, was there an expectation you had that was not met?)

●       What do you hope to get out of a friendship? What are needs of yours that you hope your friends will meet?

●       Think through your relationship with your mom, sister, and/or past friends. What are some hindrances you may have in friendships now because of past hurts and unhealthy relationships? Do you see a pattern in your life that has led to a lack of intimacy with friends or conflict with others? Why have past friendships ended? This is a very important step so take time to think through this!

James: Anger

The passage we are focusing on here in James deals with the subject of anger and hostility which causes dissensions between people. This topic is one that I have struggled with and continue to struggle with. A few summers ago when this struggle had really become a focus for me I came across a book called, Uprooting Anger by Robert Jones and it was the first time that I was able to understand the source of anger and how to deal with it in a Christ-centered way. The premise of the book is that dealing with our anger is similar to gardening. In gardening to get rid of weeds you must dig down and find the roots and extract them, and if you don’t the weed will eventually grow back. In the same way, if you want to get rid of anger, you have to get it by the roots or else it will return. Jones explains that, “There will be no thorough and lasting godly change without root removal.” (p.9) So as we look at James, we are going to be focusing on this exact thing, root removal. We are not going to find a 10 step program to freedom from anger, but an explanation of the roots of our anger. Where does it come from? What is the cause? And then James will point us to the only thing that will begin us down the road of freedom from it.

Before we look at this passage I want to present to you a little bit of the basics of what anger is, from Jones’ book. And this will give us a good framework and understanding of what it is as we seek to discover what James says the roots are. The definition of anger that Jones gives us is, “A whole person active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” Here is what he means by each part of that definition:

  1. Active – this means it is something we do, not something we have
  2. Whole – anger involves our entire being, not just our emotions, it engages our beliefs, feelings, actions, desires, etc…
  3. Response – it is provoked, something makes us mad
  4. Negative Moral Judgment – when we are angry we are objecting to a wrong or an injustice committed, we are making a judgment that something is wrong (that is why he says negative instead of positive)
  5. Perceived Evil – our anger comes from a personal perception that something is evil or unjust, whether our perception is accurate or inaccurate

As we come to understand the definition of anger more fully we also will start realizing how many times we say we are feeling something other than anger when really it meets all the same criteria that Jones has just given us. Jones says that in using words other than “angry”, such as frustrated, upset, or irritated, we are simply trying to hide the fact that we are angry and soften the blow. These other words may seem more acceptable than saying you are angry. He says we can argue the nuanced distinctions between the words, but the bottom line is that they all have the same root and the definition above applies to each of them. The differences are found in the level of intensity we might feel, how personal the wrong is, and how we express it outwardly.

Based on the definition of anger and understanding how we use “softer” words to mask the anger we are feeling, we come to understand that we actually all struggle with anger. When we think of anger we picture some of the outward expressions of it such as blow ups, nostril flaring, yelling, cursing, fighting, hitting and slapping. However, those are just some of the outward ways that anger in the heart manifests itself. In some it might be expressed through retreating and pulling away, wallowing in self-pity, resentment, feeling betrayed, being cold to another, giving someone the silent treatment but then denying that we are angry. What we need to realize is that when the Bible deals with anger, it is not talking about how it manifests itself on the outside, but about what is underneath it and in our hearts.

The last thing we need to understand before looking at the text is the overall picture of anger in the Bible. We often hear people defend their anger by saying that “God gets angry” or “Jesus got angry”, and we are left feeling a little confused over whether anger is ok or not. We each have our own measuring stick we use in order to determine if our anger is justifiable or not. Jones clarifies our confusion by giving us the 3 categories of anger that are found in the Bible.

The first two types of anger both fall under the larger umbrella of righteous anger. The first is Divine Anger. This refers to God’s anger against sin and evil, and it is anger over actual sin against Him. This type of anger focuses on God and His Kingdom. His anger is perfect and pure, and flows from His perfect justice, is expressed in godly qualities and ways. And the anger of God leads to worship, repentance, restoration and fruit. The majority of anger references in the Bible refer to God’s anger. The second category of anger is Righteous Human Anger. This refers to the anger of man that imitates God’s anger. This is the anger we see expressed by Jesus as a man. It is our negative response to evil that we accurately perceive as being evil. It is not anger over someone wronging us, but over a wrong or injustice against God. The greatest example we have of what righteous anger looks like in a human is Jesus. The times when we are told that Jesus was angry, his anger was over a sin or injustice done against God, but when Jesus is personally slandered or humiliated he never responds in anger.

The third category does not fall under the umbrella of righteous anger and Jones calls Sinful Human Anger. This refers to almost all human experiences of anger. Often this anger starts with a wrong belief or an evil desire, is focused on self rather than God, it can involve ignorance, impulsiveness, bad judgment, sin, lies, and mis-perceiving other’s motives. It reacts in ungodly ways and violates God’s will. It is the opposite of righteous anger. This is the type of anger that we experience the vast majority of the time and is what James is going to deal with.

Read James 1:19-21 & 4:1-12

In chapter 1 James gives us a quick overview of how we can avoid sinful anger. He says that first we need to always listen. Secondly, don’t always speak, think first. Then third, don’t jump immediately to anger. As we follow these steps in our lives we could practically rid ourselves of all anger. But James knows that the roots are deep and that we need to deal with them first. So he keeps moving forward and tells us that God’s anger and the anger of man are different. Man’s anger does not lead to righteousness, there is something flawed in our anger, behind it is moral filth and evil. And the only way we can rid ourselves of this filth and ugliness, is by humbling ourselves and turning to God’s Word, which is planted in each of us. That is the only thing that can save us from the sin that reigns within us. These 3 verses James give us are like a 3 minute children’s sermon given right before a 45 minute in depth sermon. All that James is about to unfold for us he says in these three verses.

Now we turn to chapter 4 where he focuses on the anger and hostility of man. In the verses leading up to chapter 4 James actually tells them how to be peacemakers and how to not be controlled by sinful anger. But after telling them they need to be peacemakers he takes a step back and goes into detail on why their anger is sinful, what is it that leads to the outward expressions of anger that they are struggling with?

James begins by listing the cause (or root) of dissension between people. He says the overall problem is that we each have desires that battle within us. Other versions translate the word “desires” as “pleasures” (NAS) and “passions” (ESV), and each of these words can be either good or bad, so first we need to understand if James is talking about good or bad desires that battle within us. This word is the same greek word that is used in Titus 3:3 which says, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” This word is not a positive word, it is very negative, communicating something bad or evil is behind it. So off the bat James is saying that what is behind our dissensions with other people is always a fruit of an evil desire within us. He goes on to explain that the first thing that happens is we see something we want that we don’t have or we don’t get. The word “want” here is not meant to communicate that there is something you would like to have, but that it is something you lust for and covet. It is a desire that overcomes us and does not have God’s best or other’s best in mind, just self.

The James say that when we want something and don’t get it, we will do what we need to do to get it, we will fight, kill, covet, and quarrel to obtain what we want. As each of us thinks about this I know that we can all think of a very embarrassing time in our lives when we acted this childish. But what we need to understand is that James is not talking to teenagers, 5 year olds, or people with personality disorders, he is talking to mature adult beliers like you and I. Just as with showing favoritism and using our tongue for evil, what James is talking about here might be present in our lives in very subtle ways. It could even go virtually unseen, but we know its there. We know what is in our hearts and the thoughts we have. We are each aware of the things right now that we think we deserve and wish we had, that we are harboring within us, cultivating anger, envy, and lust within us. We kill, covet, and fight in very subtle ways. We might developing hatred for someone who has what we want, looking for bad things in them and about them that keep them from being better than us in our eyes. Or we could use our tongues to destroy those who have what we want or the ones who won’t give us what we want. We become angry with God for not giving us what we so clearly need and deserve. And we battle those we are mad at, causing dissension in the body of Christ over something we want or desire.

After explaining what the root causes of anger within us are, James points out two root causes of finding ourselves, as believers, in that place. First, perhaps we don’t have what we want because we are not looking to God as our provider and asking Him for what we desire. We might do this because we don’t trust God, we don’t believe He is sovereign, or we know that what we desire is not something that is pleasing to God, so like a child we try to hide it from Him. The second reason is that we actually do ask God, but we are asking for the wrong reasons. Its all about “me”. And God is not going to honor that. God knows the motives of our hearts even if the words we use when we ask Him sound honorable.

James explains that the problem behind this is adultery. The progression within us that leads to fighting and dissensions is a form of spiritual adultery, like what the Israelites are accused of throughout the Old Testament. As believers we are married to Christ, to our Lord, yet we are running after other things to give us what Christ is meant to give us, searching for pleasure and meaning in the things of this world. James also calls this friendship with the world, and he tells us we can’t have that and belong to God. Those who are friends of the world are enemies of God, because the world hates God and is hostile towards Him. So you can’t have both. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Those things that define the world are exactly what James is saying we are desiring and asking for, and they are the enemies of God and what he desires for us. This includes a self-focused life view that says life is about taking care of #1, making sure I have a good life filled with all that makes me happy.

The in verse 5 James gives us a simple summary of what he is saying, within each of us is an envious spirit that longs intensely for the things of this world that will think will satisfy us. This is written throughout scripture and James talks about it throughout this book, within each person is a spirit of envy and selfish striving. And this is the root of what causes anger, hostility, dissensions, and fighting amongst man. Anger is the result of a battle within each of us. We are fighting not only against this spirit of envy/comparison and selfish ambition but also the things of the world and the way that they deceive us and entice us to desire them.

So what do we do about it? Again, we turn to what James says in verses 6-10 that we looked at last week. The first thing that we need to remember is that as believers God does give us His grace in order to choose what is right. But we must learn to humble ourselves before Him in order to receive it. (v.6) As we humble ourselves we also learn to submit to God’s desires and His ways in our lives (v.7) Then we acknowledge that the devil seeks to keep us from God’s will for our lives and we resist him, and James says when we resist the devil it works, he flees from us! (v.7) But we can’t just focus on resisting the devil, we must pair that with clinging to God, drawing near to Him, and just as James says the devil will flee when we resist him, so will God draw near to us when we cling to Him (v.8) But we must also confess, repent, and forgive, because without those things we won’t move forward (v.8) Lastly, he says we must grieve our sinfulness, hate it and weep over it, because when we do this our perspective is made clear and we can then view our lives with an eternal perspective (v.9) It is only as we do these things, humbling ourselves before God, that we are able to desire the things of God and overcome this battle within us. Again, we are promised that as we do this “God will lift us up” (v.10)

In verses 11-12 he adds in a sort of “side-note” on slandering others. When we slander another person we are judging them and the majority of the time it is fueled by a selfish motive or desire. We often blame others for our troubles and the problems we face, for the things we don’t have. And James says, the bottom line is that we do not have the right to judge another person, we are not the judge. So when we are struggling with anger we must remember that part of our job is to let it go, entrust the job of judgment to God, and not use our mouths to seek revenge or feel justified by slandering the other person.

Read James 3:13-18

In these verses James tells us the difference between someone who is a peacemaker and someone who lives controlled by the battle within them is based on what wisdom they choose to follow, the wisdom of the world or the wisdom of God. He tells us that the wisdom of the world is full of bitter envy, comparing ourselves to others and desiring what they have that we don’t. It is also fueled by selfish ambition, having self as the most important thing in our lives and only looking out for me. It is earthly (meaning not from God), unspiritual, and from the devil and in the end it will always breed disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom of God is pure and untainted, it desires peace, considers others, and doesn’t compare and compete, it is submissive to God and His will, full of mercy and eager to forgive, full of good fruit, unwavering, genuine and sincere. In 1:20 we are told that man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God, but here we are told that those who live by the wisdom of God will have a harvest of righteousness in their lives. In verse 13 James says when a man chooses to live by the wisdom of God it is shown in his good life and his deeds done in humility. Humility means not making self the focus and it is the foundation of living in God’s wisdom.

The one who desires to be a peacemaker, to not be controlled by sinful anger, to not quarrel and fight with others, must seek the wisdom of God. As James says in verse 14, we must recognize when we are following the wisdom of the world and repent of it, turning to God and seeking His wisdom in each situation. And we are promised that when we do this God will draw near to us, He will lift us up and give us grace, and it will result in a harvest of righteousness and peace in our lives. I have seen this happen recently in my life. I was upset (aka angry) with my husband over something, but instead of pouting, withdrawing, or telling him what he had done wrong and that I was angry, I felt a burden to pray about it first. So I spent a week talking to God about it. And in that time God helped me to see how self-centered my anger was and that while it was important to communicate with my husband, it was more important for my heart to be right first. In that time not only did God calm my anger, but He showed me sin in my heart that I needed to be focusing on. In the end, instead of attacking my husband I actually confessed to him my sin and asked for his forgiveness. Through that conversation his heart was softened and he was really able to hear the very small thing that had upset me in the first place and was overly willing to work on that one thing. The process had resulted in incredible fruit and righteousness in both our lives, God lifted us up!

As a practical tool Robert Jones offers a few questions we can ask when we get angry to help us get to the root of our anger:

  1. Am I angry over an actual sin? (as opposed to an inconvenience, disagreement, personal preference, a perceived wrong against me,…)
  2. Is my anger God-centered? (as opposed to self-centered or envious)
  3. Am I expressing my anger in a self-controlled, godly way that leads to worship, obedience, and fruit?

Questions to help you process this lesson:

  1. What was the last thing that made you mad? What selfish desires or envy may have been fueling your anger?
  2. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Discuss this, what is hard about doing this? How can we do this in our own lives?
  3. What are some of the things you have been asking God for in prayer lately? Would you say you are asking with the right motives or the wrong motives as James talks about in 4:3?

Read James 5:7-20 to prepare for next week

James: The Power of the Tongue

Last week we ended our lesson on faith and works by looking at James 1:22-25 where James tells all believers to not just be hearers of God’s words, but to be doers as well. Someone who is just a hearer and not a doer is all talk. And in verse 19 James tells us that our mouths and what we do with them are connected to being a doer. In James 2:12 he says to speak and act as one who believes…not just act, but also speak. So now we are going to focus on how we are to live out our faith with our mouths.

 READ James 1:26-27

 First, we need to understand that when James uses the word “religious” here, he is using it in a positive light, which is different than how our culture uses it. Instead of saying that being religious is bad, he is saying that we should desire to be religious, we want to be devoted to what we say we believe and live it out in our lives. If it helps you to understand what he is saying then substitute the word “faithful” for “religious”. In verse 26 he says, if you consider yourself religious, or faithful, then you better be focusing on your tongue and what you say. And the one who does not do this has deceived himself and has a faith that is worthless. The man who says one thing but lives out something different is deceiving himself, often believing what he is saying to be true even though it is not in his life. James is saying that what proves our words is when they line up with how we live. Our faith is only worth something if we are applying it to our lives and seeking to live it out, which includes what we say. In verse 27 he says just this, the faith that God desires us to have is one that reflects what we say we believe and is applied to how we live and speak. Our words should reflect our faith.

 READ James 3:1-12

 The first point James makes about the use of our tongues is directed at those who teach and speak in God’s name in order to make the point that no one is perfect and we will all mess up with our mouths, even those called by God to teach and speak His Word. One who speaks vocationally has even more opportunities to screw up than other men because his it requires him to use his mouth more. James says, better are those who don’t expose themselves to this inevitable increase in failure to reflect our faith with our words.

 After that disclaimer letting us know that what he is about to say applies to all people, he dives in and explains just how powerful and destructive the tongue is. And he gives us three analogies to help us to understand it. In the first he describes the relationship between a horse and a bit. He tells us that a bit is meant to make the horse obey the one trying to control it and it tells the horse where to go and what to do. One of the main points he makes is that the bit is much smaller than the horse but it still over powers it. The second analogy also emphasizes this contrast in size. A ship is much larger than it’s rudder, however the rudder over powers the ship and the winds, steering it according to where the pilot desires to go. Finally, he turns to an analogy of a flame and a forest. Based on what he says and what we know about forest fires we understand that a small spark sets a great forest on fire. Once the flame has caught fire it is practically unstoppable, it is unpredictable, and it fully destroys everything in its path. James concludes in 3:6 with a very strong statement about our tongue, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

 As we apply what we learn from verse 6 and the three analogies, here is what we learn about the power of the tongue:

1.     Although the tongue is small, it over powers us. Something ironic about this is that the tongue happens to physically be the strongest muscle in our body. In addition Scripture tells us it can have the greatest power and influence over our lives.

2.     It can control us, telling us what to do and what to believe. It has the power to corrupt us.

3.     It can change the course and direction of our lives. James says it can set the course of our lives on fire.

4.     It can destroy anything and set an unstoppable and unpredictable force of destruction in us and around us.

5.     Lastly, we learn that it does not have a mind of its own, but that there is something behind it, controlling it, telling it what to do. James touches on this in verse 6 when he says the tongue is a world of evil and is set on fire by hell.

 Next we need to take some time to focus on this last point. What do other passages in the Bible say about our tongue and it’s connection to evil? First, when Isaiah found himself in the presence of God the very first thing he acknowledged was his evil tongue. He says, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah recognized the vessel of evil his mouth had been. Then in Psalm 34:12-13 we are told that in order to love life and see many good days, we must “keep [our] tongue from evil and [our] lips from speaking lies.” Again emphasizing the point that the course of our lives is changed by what we do with our tongues. When Paul writes to the people in the Corinthian church he mentions the sins he has heard are prevalent there, “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Corinth 12:20). Everything he mentions involves the use of the tongue. And when he attempts to explain sin and depravity in Romans he makes the point that “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:10-14) Our sinfulness and depravity is understood and seen through what we say with our mouths. Throughout Proverbs we are reminded of the destruction that comes about through the use of our tongues…“A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul…A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much…A scoundrel plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends…Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:6-7, 20:19, 16:27-28, 26:20-22). It is made clear throughout the Bible that our mouths play a central role in our personal sins and the furthering of evil on earth.

 We also see throughout James that the tongue is a primary vessel of sin and evil as he touches on multiple sins the people are guilty of that involve the tongue. He points out angry talk, slander (4:11), blaming or self-justifying (1:13-14), flattering the rich and oppressing the poor (2:3-4), boasting (2:16, 4:13, 2:18), hypocrisy (3:9), fighting & quarreling (4). What we see in all of this is what is behind the tongue, what is controlling it like a rudder or bit…it is the evil and sin within us. As verse 6 said so eloquently, it is set on fire by hell.

 It is undeniable that our tongue has great influence in our lives and can be used to accomplish great evils. So as believers what can we do to better control our tongues? First in verses 7-8, James points out that while we have been given the great privilege and ability to tame the world around us, including the largest animals on earth, we are unable to tame one of the smallest parts of our bodies, the tongue. Then in verses 9-12 he emphasizes how our tongues even betray us as believers and worshipers with good intentions. He says it does two contradictory things, with our tongues we praise God, and with our tongues we curse man, whom God calls us to love and is made in His image. Here he is acknowledging the battle that exists within all believers. Not only do we now have the choice and ability to live as God calls us to live, but we also still have our flesh and sinful nature constantly battling within us. And James says “this should not be.” He is not saying it is impossible or can’t happen, he is saying that this should not happen.

 In verses 11-12 he shows how absurd it is that we use our tongues to both bless and curse. He says that in one way it is like a spring having both fresh and salt water, it won’t work, the salt would permeate the fresh! Secondly, it is like a plant growing a fruit from a different plant. It is impossible, the plant will grow what it was made to grow, what is inside it will come out. James is saying that either our cursing or our blessing will permeate the other, we can’t have both; and what comes out of our mouths simply reflects what is on the inside. Skip Ryan says that “verbal inconsistency reveals our relationship with God”. When we both curse men and praise God it reveals where we are with God.

 It seems that James leaves us hopeless. In chapter 1 he begins by telling us that as Christians we must learn to “keep a tight reign” on our tongues, but then in chapter 3 he tells us that “no man” can tame his tongue and that it is not just a problem in our inner-personal relationships, but also in our relationship with God. Then he leaves it there and moves on to point out sin patterns and problems that believers have in living for God without answering the question of what we do about our evil tongues. But eventually he gets to the answer, which is the answer in all areas of sin in our lives.

 READ James 4:6-10

 Here he tells us how to deal with the sin in our, how we are to deal with our evil tongues. While no man can tame his tongue alone, God gives us grace to do it, without His grace we couldn’t do it. But we must submit ourselves to Him to receive His grace to do it, which means recognizing our sin and inability and His grace and ability, as verse 6 says, humbling ourselves before God. We have to learn to acknowledge when the devil is manipulating us and tempting us to sin with our tongues, and then resist him. But, the only way we can resist him is by drawing near to God, clinging to Him, turning to Him in utter dependence. And we must remember that we can’t do any of this without confession, repentance, and forgiveness, we must have a truly contrite and repentant heart. Just like in Ecclesiastes and earlier in James, we must keep a clear perspective and not let the things of the world over shadow eternal truths. In the final verse he summarizes the beauty of this, all we must do is humble ourselves before God and He will lift us up, make us able to fight the sin within us and around us. This is the process of sanctification, living as we are called to live while acknowledging that we can’t do it without God’s help and leaning on Him. And back in James 1:26, he says if we are not doing what we can and letting God do what we can’t, then we have a worthless religion and we are deceiving ourselves.

 Understanding what James is saying here can have serious implications on our Christian walk. First, he helps us to see the connection between what our mouths say and the sin within us. In Matthew 15:18 Jesus tells us that “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart” And also in Matthew 12 Jesus says that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” and that it is by what we have said with our mouths that we will be judged. What we say with our mouths not only affects the sin inside of us, but it also reflects it. Secondly, because of this connection as we focus on controlling our tongues we are also dealing with the sin within us and outside of us. Skip Ryan put it this way, “The tongue controls the inner compulsions to sin as well as the external forces that push us.” When we control our mouths, we also diffuse sin within us, not allowing it to grow or control us, and refusing to feed it. In addition, when we control our mouths we also refuse to give in to the sin and temptations that push against us on the outside. When we focus on our words we are also focusing on and being forced to deal with the sin in our hearts. This is why James tells us to work on what we say, to learn to keep a tight reign on our tongues. James is not telling us to just clean things up on the outside even though we are sinful on the inside. He is telling us to do this because it purifies us on the inside as well. And in controlling our tongue we prevent endless pain and destruction.

 Lastly, we must remember that the tongue can not only be powerful to promote evil, but it can be powerful in promoting good as well. The first use of words in the Bible was when God spoke creation into being, but now satan destroys with speech. So we have a choice, are we going to speak words that bring life or words that bring death? Some verses in the Bible tells us how to do this. Ephesians 4:25 tells us to “…put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Use your mouth to promote truth. And in Ephesians 4:29 Paul says,  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Use your mouth to build others up and benefit those who are listening. Hebrews 3:13 says, “… encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Use your mouth to encourage other believers to stay strong in their faith. What else can we use our mouths for? Promoting justice and defending the needy, peacemaking, teaching God’s Word, praising & worshiping God, and on and on. As we focus on keeping a tight reign on our tongues we need to also focus on using our tongues to promote the good things of God and truth in this world.

 Questions to help you process and apply this passage

●       What was the last thing you said that you regret or that you think you probably should not have said? Why do you feel this way? What could be the results of what you said?

●       What are some ways this week that you used your mouth to speak truth, encourage someone, or say something beneficial?

●       When you know that you are about to say something that you shouldn’t, what are some practical ways to reign in your tongue? When you have said something you should not have, what should you do next?

 To prepare for next week read James 1:19-21, 3:13-18, 4:1-12

James: Trials & Temptations

James, the brother of Jesus, has a pastor’s heart, he is honest with his people, but he is sure to communicate it in love. He refers to them as his beloved brothers. He is writing to Christian Jews scattered all over Palestine who face persecution and lack of fellowship and encouragement.

Read James 1:2-7

James begins his letter by focusing on the ways we are attacked in our faith. Here in these verses he talks about how to respond when things attack your faith externally. In verse 2 he says we are to consider it joy when we face trials. It is significant that he uses the word “consider” because it acknowledges that it is natural, even for Christians, to not be joyful when faced with hard times. It would be un-natural to walk around with a small on our faces no matter what was happening in our lives. By using the word “consider” he is saying that we must actively choose the perspective of joy, to see the joy that comes through trials. It is part of the process of having our minds “transformed” by God as it says in Romans 12:2

Then he tells us in verse 3 that the reason we can consider trials a joy is because they develop perseverance and as we continue to develop perseverance it causes us to grow in our faith. Trials push us and force us to really live out what we believe and trust God, and in turn they reveal what we really believe. It is the work of persevering or enduring that matures us in our faith. As we endure hard times, trials, and testing, by standing in our faith and not giving in, our faith will grow and strengthen, we will gain all that God has for us so that we can live a life of faith. But without perseverance our faith will not grow and mature, and we will not gain all that God has for us.

As you read these verses ask yourself, What are the things in my life right now that are testing my faith? Maybe its finances, job security, singleness, relational issues in marriage, or continuing health issues. In these situations James is saying that if you persevere, choose to live out your faith and trust in God, your faith will grow and mature, and God will give you all you need to do this. And we know that this means that the next time we face a trial similar to the one we just endured, that we will face it even stronger the next time, knowing that God was faithful the first time so we can trust Him the next.

Next in verse 5 James adds to this our need for wisdom in order to be able to persevere in our faith. Without wisdom, we can’t make the decision to endure and stand in our faith. And he says, if you lack wisdom, ask God for it and He will give it to you. In 1 Corinthians Paul talks constantly about the wisdom of man/world versus the wisdom of God. And he shows that they are two contrary things and that as believers we need to seek the wisdom of God. That is what James is saying here, you have “your wisdom” but seek God’s, and if you don’t have it, ask Him for it. Because without it you can’t endure. So, when you are facing these trials that we just talked about, James says to stop and ask God to give you wisdom in them. This is part of enduring, asking God to give you His wisdom in that situation.

Then he touches on faith, and says to stand in what you believe and don’t doubt, and he gives us a picture of what doubt looks like. To doubt would mean that you would ask God for something but not believe He will give it to you or feel uncertain about it. There is no grounding to your actions if you lack the faith to believe in who God is and what He has promised you. So he says the person that does that is unstable and will continue to sway back and forth based on whatever is putting pressure on him. Like a wave in the sea being blown back and forth by which ever way the wind happens to be blowing. And when we live that way he says we won’t receive all the blessings God has to give us, like wisdom. We must be single-minded as we live out our faith, knowing that that is how we receive from God His gifts and blessings, otherwise we are missing out

What does this look like practically in your life? How do you respond when something unwanted happens? Do you reacting in extreme panic, anxiety, anger, or stress rather than turning to God? Or maybe you react cognitively based on how you understand the situation in your own wisdom and not seeking God’s wisdom and understanding of a situation.

In verse 12, he calls blessed the ones who persevered when they were faced with hard times. The are blessed because of the truth that they didn’t do it for nothing and their endurance will not be in vain. In the end they will receive the “crown of life”, eternal life with God. This raises a question: Do we receive the “crown of life” because of our faith or because of the application of our faith? We know that receive eternal life because of our faith, not as a result of what we do. We can’t earn it, it was a free gift of God. So, James is not saying that we earn eternal life in how we live, he is saying that it comes as a result of faith and that when we live out our faith it is proof that we are saved. So when you live out your faith, and endure in hardships, growing and maturing in your faith, you can know that you have real and true saving faith, the one that promises us eternal life.

Read James 1:13-15

Here in verses 13-15 James transitions from focusing on the things that attack us on the outside to the things that attack us from within. And in this he tells us two things that we need to acknowledge and understand in regards to our internal struggles. The first being that evil and Sin is from Satan and sin lives within us. The Greek word used here that is translated as “tempt” means “to entice someone to do or acquire something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or not beneficial” (Oxford). A temptation is something that is outside of us. So for someone to be tempted means that they have been presented with a temptation and are now considering it even though they know it is wrong.

In verse 13 James establishes that when we are tempted we need to recognize that it is not God tempting us. Based on the definition of tempt, we know that God can’t tempt us. God commands us to live according to what is right so in order to tempt us to do something that is wrong He would be untrue to Himself, which is impossible. This might sound silly to even think, but how many times have you thought to yourself: “God has put me in this situation to see what I would do, will I give in to sin or stand strong, He just wants to see if I will fail or succeed!” Instead we need to recognize who the Bible tells us is the one who tempts us, Satan. (See Matt 4:3 and 1 Thess 3:5)

In verse 14 James then answers the question, why are we tempted? Why do we even consider sin? And he tells us it is because of our sin nature that we even consider sin and doing something we know is not right. It is that sin nature, that evil desire, that entices us and drags us towards sin. Which is exactly what Paul is talking about in Romans 7 when he says that we are flesh in bondage to sin, we do not do the good we want to do because of the sin within us, and that evil is present in us. Then in verse 15 he lays out the pattern that occurs: Satan presents us with a temptation, we are tempted and consider it, our evil desires entice us to do it and drag us away, and we choose to give in and sin which results in death rather than life.

James’ point here is that when we find ourselves struggling internally against a temptation we need to acknowledge it for what it is. We can’t neglect this, no matter how long we’ve been a Christian, how good we’ve always been, or how committed we are to Christ, this is a reality that will never change and will always be with us! And in regards to this he say’s “don’t be deceived.” James knows that our human response to understanding the depth of our sin nature could lead us to despair and to give up, or to try harder depending on our selves rather than God.

The second thing in verses 17 and 18 that James says to acknowledge when faced with temptation is that all good and grace is from God. After helping us to have a more realistic perspective on the sin and temptations in our lives, James wants us now to know the only source of hope that we can turn to and know, God.

In Romans 7:24-8:6 Paul gives us his personal response when he faces the sin and evil within himself. He says that we have hope only because Christ accomplishes for us and in us what we are unable to do. Because of Christ we have the Spirit within us that enables us to set our minds on what God desires, and not on our evil desires of the flesh. As we yield to the spirit and trust in God, he helps us to not live according to our sinful nature, but according to the spirit within us. This is the process of sanctification. So here James calls this God’s good and perfect gift to us, that we can be transformed and changed, that we have God’s grace and forgiveness. And James reminds us that our greatest gift is that we are the “first fruits” of His creation, the best of what He has made, the cream of the crop. We as utter sinners have been given the highest status through the salvation He gives us. Both trials that attack us from the outside and temptations that entice us from the inside should drive us to the cross, into total dependence on God, because we can’t face them without Him.

 Questions to help you process and apply

●       When have you faced a testing time in your life that forced you to either choose to endure and walk in faith, or give in to the trial? How did your faith grow because of that trial?

●       Is there a situation or temptation in your life now, or maybe one that has been recurring, that really threatens your faith, causes you to doubt, and where you feel you are tempted to be “blown back and forth by the wind”?

●       Think of an area in your life where you are (or have been) tempted. How have you responded to that temptation? How can you turn to God in that situation and yield to the Spirit?

 For Next Week: Read James 1:6-11, 2:1-13, 4:13-17, 5:1-6

Parting the Waters

Why are we drawn to tragic stories? Have you ever felt the tension between wanting to know every detail of a tragic story but then also wanting to avoid it because you subconsciously believed that if you exposed yourself to it then it might mean that it would happen to you? As I have thought about this I have begun to wonder if maybe, despite our fear of it happening to us, we are drawn to them because we know there is a chance something awful could happen to us, and we want to be prepared if it does. I often want to know how someone dealt with something hard….the death of a loved one who was the center of their life, a broken heart, a relationship torn by ugliness and evil, an incredible financial loss, or a vocational failure. Because, if I can learn from what someone else has gone through then it can give me the hope I need to get through it myself if it ever happened to me.

In her book Parting the Waters, Jeanne Damoff shares about a great tragedy her family suffered and the lessons they learned through it. And she was brave enough to look at this situation and ask what could be learned from it, and what good, if any, had come from it. Because she did that she was able to see the beauty of life even in dark times and see God’s goodness and love despite her heartache. She wrote her book for fearful avoiders like you and I, so that we could learn to view life through different lenses. Not lenses that simply categorize things as either “good” or “bad”, but lenses that see God’s plan transcending all things. That way, no matter whether we face a tragedy like hers or not, we can learn to see our lives through the eyes of God.

After Jeanne’s son nearly drowned it was not the death of her son that became her focus, but the death of her self. She struggled with self-pity and anger at the situation, wondering how she could live the rest of her life caring for her now debilitated son. But in the midst of these struggles a quite inner voice whispered to her the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” A once easy concept to understand had suddenly become the only path of survival for her to take in this grim circumstance. It was not what she wanted for her life, but it was clearly what she was being asked to do. As the reality of her new life set in this is how Jeanne describes her battle to die to herself and live for God alone, accepting the life He had given her and her son,

“Tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. Father, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life caring for a vegetative son. But I’ll never be asked to pay as big a price as Christ. I can’t pay it. And I can never pay You back for my salvation. Make me wiling to do Your will, no matter what it is. I remember the voice that had shouted in my head earlier that day. ‘I don’t deserve this!’ I don’t deserve this? All I really deserve is to burn in hell, forever separated from the presence of God. But you’ve given me eternal life. Lord, forgive me for listening to self-pity. Understanding the truth and living it are two different things. I knew I wouldn’t morph into Mother Teresa overnight, laying aside all my hopes and dreams, gladly undertaking whatever nasty job came my way. But at least I was learning which voices to ignore. God, in His mercy, was taking me beyond myself and into His higher purposes, teaching me how to balance amid the rolling waves. I could choose to be introspective, or I could open my eyes and behold His marvelous works. As I learned to look for God’s design, I found beauty in the most unexpected places.” (p. 59)

If you are fearful of what your future might bring, or even currently fighting God over what you wanted your life to look like, I encourage you to read Jeanne’s journey. Be bold to ask yourself, what if this happened to me, how would I respond? Would I still believe God is good and loving? Would I be submissive to His plan and trust His ways? Would I look for the good in that situation and learn from it? Because the truth is, we do not have to wait for something tragic to happen in our lives to learn to live fully for God. We are told that we can live in that blessing today as we learn to live not for ourselves, but for Him and Him alone. Only then will our lives be characterized by faith and not fear, and will we experience the most true and pure form of joy that can only be found in dying to ourselves and living for Him.

Parting the Waters on Amazon

 

Jeanne Damoff’s Web page

Broken Relationships

As I have been spending time thinking through my life and where I am at today, the thing that makes me MOST SAD is broken relationships that have never been reconciled or still evoke bad feelings when I think about them. I have been thinking a lot about this lately in my life and ironically enough there are several people in my life who are currently struggling with broken relationships. It is a common problem and we all share the common heartache over them. Why must relationships be so difficult? Why is it so hard to reconcile with people who have hurt us or who we feel hurt by? Why do we even have to hurt each other in the first place?!

The answer is sin and it can’t be avoided. What does that mean? It means that there is no person on this earth who will live a life free of tension and conflict. Because of our ugly, selfish, sin natures we are all going to hurt and be hurt. In the Bible it says that we fight because we want something and don’t get it. What is it that we want? Respect, love, honor, loyalty, fairness? And when we don’t get it instead of turning to God who is truly the only one who can give us those things, we turn against the person who we perceive is holding those things back. When we are in the midst of it our actions and emotions make perfect sense. But the bottom line is that it is sin.

Psalm 133 says that living at peace with others is “good and pleasant” and that it is only when we live at peace with one another that we will fully experience God’s blessing and life. I know this is true because there is a void in my life where there are broken relationships. When I think of them there is a dull ache inside me that tells me it is not how it was meant to be and that God’s blessing is not there. Hence, the great sadness I feel over those broken relationships.

While there is so much that can be said about broken relationships, I am going to just say a few things for now. The Bible speaks often about striving for unity and peace with one another which tells me that we should live our lives very aware of the fact that we will be prone to not live at unity and peace with one another. It should not surprise us when we have problems and disagreements with others, especially those who strive to live by higher standards. It should not surprise us that we are tempted to say bad things about how awful others are and desire to distance ourselves from them. If it were not so then the Bible would not talk about it so much.

In Ephesians we are told to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Wow. If we actually lived out those words in our lives then we would NEVER have broken relationships!! What he is saying is that those who have the Spirit of God in them are able to live at peace because of it. We are not alone in our endeavor to be humble, gentle, patient, and peaceful. We have the ability to do it.

At times in my life when I have felt threatened or hurt by another person I have found in me the fear that they could ultimately hurt me or damage who I am and how others see me. This fear is often what causes us to put up our self-protective defenses. But Psalm 129 reminds us of something very important, that even if I have been “greatly oppressed” by someone since my childhood, “they have not gained the victory over me…the LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” If you are a believer in Christ then you can trust and know that the LORD will and is protecting you. When we are hurt by another person the Psalmist says to “wait for the LORD” and to put your hope in Him. Instead of focusing our eyes on that person, the situation, or what we fear will happen because of it, we must focus on the LORD and hope in Him.

The most important thing in all of this is that we are not just encouraged to live at peace with one another, we are commanded to. When Christ was asked what the most important commands to follow were, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….and love your neighbor as yourself.” And we are motivated and enabled to do this because God has done it with us. He is the only one who has a right to keep a record of our sins, but He still forgives. It is because of His forgiveness and love of us that we are able to forgive and love others. He forgives us of ALL our sins and gives us FULL redemption. As we focus on what God has done for us and the joy that is found in that, it overshadows our desires to be at war with others and gives us the motivation to forgive and love. And when we forgive someone who has hurt us we are filled with joy, because we are carrying out God’s will for us and because it is a reflection of His forgiveness for us, and that is beautiful.

The truth is that reconciliation is what being a Christian is all about. We are Christians because God was willing to reconcile with us. And we show this as we reconcile with those who have hurt us who do not deserve to be forgiven. But we must remember that because of this the evil one hates forgiveness, unity, and reconciliation. So he will fight to keep you from doing it. He will fill your minds with thoughts and make it seem ridiculous and impossible to reconcile. And he will always be luring you to hate, judge, and hold grudges. So we must fight it with all that we are and remember that He who is for us is greater than he who is against us.

Vision

Without vision man dies. That is my paraphrase of a Charles Swindoll quote that sits on my desk. It has hung by my desk for at least 7 years, because every word of it has proven true. Here is the entire quote, “Vision is essential for survival. It is spawned by faith, sustained by hope, sparked by imagination, encompasses vast vistas outside the realm of the predictable, the safe, the expected. No wonder we perish without it!”

I have found over time that my definition of the word vision has been skewed because I neglect the main ingredients that Swindoll lists. I forget how essential to my life faith and hope is. I dismiss imagination. I write off enthusiasm. And what about those things that are outside the realm of “the predictable, the safe, the expected”? I often warp vision into something that is known, tangible, obvious, and predictable.

If you have read some of my recent entries, you know that right now I am seeking vision for my life and who I am. One thing I have found interesting is how much harder it is today to do this than it was 10 years ago. When I was in my early 20’s the world was my oyster….I dreamt big dreams and often wondered about my future. I watched movies like, “The Dead Poets Society” and “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” and I was inspired. I believed I could do anything! By no means was it easy to dream not knowing whether they would come true or not, but it was life-giving and it motivated me to try and to be hopeful.

 Today, many of my dreams have come to fruition and I am having a hard time coming up with new dreams. I feel that maybe I am too old for dreams and that imagination may be “unspiritual.” I don’t wonder about my future anymore because somehow I have been convinced that my future now fits into a set mold. Now that I have given many good years to my vocation, earned my degrees, gotten married, and chosen a hometown, what is left? And of course I have more failures today than I did back then, and they weigh me down and tell me I am not good enough. It seems safer to stay in the framework of my life and not take the risk to dream now that I am “experienced, older, and wiser”.

But the truth is, just living within a framework is not safe. As Swindoll said, it leads to death. If I stop dreaming, hoping, planning….then I die. Over the past couple of months I have reached out to various men and women in full time ministry seeking advice and counsel. Through them God has revived in me an ability to dream and hope. He has reminded me of how important it is to “be open” in order to be able to see and receive what it is God might have for me. Knowing that anything is possible and God is completely in control of my future has given me great peace and contentment as I wait for this next step in my life. This is my prayer today, that I will not shut out faith, hope, imagination, and enthusiasm…but instead embrace them and allow God to use them to give me His vision for me.