All posts by Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie and her husband, David, and son, Matt, make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. She and David are the co-hosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 8,500 churches around the country and host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. In May 2014 they will be offering a Respite Retreat in the UK for the first time. Nancy is the author of numerous books, including Holding on to Hope and Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow and is currently working on the five-book Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible study series.

Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me

I just got home from another funeral. Seems we’ve gone to more than our share lately. And once again, as I left the church, I pled with those closest to me, “Please don’t make my funeral all about me.”

large_FuneralWe were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things she accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on her behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored.

Write It Down

When we sit a funeral, I suppose few of us can resist allowing our thoughts to wander to thinking about who might show up when we are the one in the casket. We can’t help but think about who will speak and what will be said. Of course when that day comes, especially if it comes unexpectedly, we’re not here to express what we hope our funeral will say about who we were, or, more importantly, whose we were.

So I have decided to write it down. When I die, you won’t have to wonder what I would have wanted. You’ll know. You’ll know that nothing would make me happier than for my funeral to be all about Christ instead of all about me. Please make it all about his righteous life and not my feeble efforts at good works. Make it about his coming to defeat death and not my courage (or lack thereof) in the face of death. Make it about his emergence from the grave with the keys to death and the grave, which changes everything about putting my body into a grave.

Sure, my name will come up. You can express gratitude that God chose me and drew me to himself. You can thank him for transforming me from a spiritually dead little girl into a spiritually alive and therefore indestructible co-heir with Christ. You can praise God for his mercy that is wide enough and his anger that is slow enough and his love that is steadfast enough for a repeat offender like me to be drawn into his good graces. You can honor God for being true to his promise to cause all things to work together for my good and thank him for allowing me to see some of that good in my lifetime. You can thank him for his Word that is living enough and active enough to pierce deep inside me, dividing joint and marrow, exposing my shallow beliefs and hidden motives, going to work in me to renew me and give me the mind of Christ.

You can shout at my funeral if you want to. Shout praise to the God who raised Christ from the dead, providing a preview of what will happen to my body because I am joined to Christ. You can mock the defeated desires of the Devil by shouting that neither life nor death can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.

You can cry at my funeral if you want to. But don’t think for a minute that my death is tragic. No matter how it happens, no matter when; it simply can’t be a tragedy. Leaving this world with all of its sin-sickness to enter into the beauty and perfection and peace of the presence of Christ is something to anticipate, not avoid. Death, for me, will not be the second-best option to a longer life here. To be with Christ will not be a minor improvement on this life, but “far better” (Phil. 1:23). You can cry, but I hope your tears are, at least in part, tears of joy that I have entered into the joy of my Master.

Don’t Believe It

While someone might sentimentally suggest that I am looking down on all that is happening or listening in to what is being said, don’t believe it. My faith will have become sight, and my eyes will be fixed on my beautiful Savior. I will have found my place among “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23), and my spirit will not linger here.

What you must not do at my funeral is make it all about me. What I want most is that “Christ will be honored in [my] body, whether in life or in death” (Phil.1:20). Those gathered that day have no need for a sanitized, idealized rendition of who I was or what I accomplished. On that day, in fact on every day until that day, “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

I am not afraid to look the king of terrors in the face,

For I know I shall be drawn, not driven, out of the world.

Until then let me continually glow and burn out for thee,

And when the last great change shall come, let me awake in thy likeness.

— The Valley of Vision

We Don’t Have to Read the Book or See the Movie to Know Heaven Is Real

“Have you read Heaven Is for Real?” I’ve been asked this question more times than I can count. So let me just tell you—no, I haven’t. I was actually asked by the publisher to read the manuscript to offer an endorsement before the book came out, but I declined. And clearly the lack of an endorsement from me has not hindered sales.

HeavenisforrealtheaterposterI’ve been hoping that the hoopla surrounding this book and so many of the other “died and went to heaven and came back” books would end. And then I went to the theater over the holidays and saw previews for the upcoming movie based on Heaven Is for Real. So before you ask if I am going to see the movie, let me just tell you—no, I’m not.

Do These Books Encourage Genuine Faith?

People sometimes say these stories encouraged their faith or the faith of someone they know. But I think they actually diminish biblical faith by elevating claims of a supernatural experience over the substance of the Scriptures. Most of these claims of seeing into heaven focus on earthbound concerns and stunted human desires that lack what the Bible describes as the heart of heaven—the glory of God, the Lamb who was slain, on the throne of the universe. In embracing these stories we’re saying the Bible is simply not enough, that someone’s mystical experience is needed to verify or “make real” what God has said. But saving faith is putting all our hopes in who God is and what God has said as revealed in the Bible. It is being confident of what we can’t see (John 20:29; Hebrews 11:1), not being convinced by something someone else supposedly saw.

Interestingly, Jesus himself spoke of the uselessness of such testimony for generating genuine faith. Jesus told a story about a rich man in the place of the dead who calls out to “Father Abraham” to go and warn his brothers so they will not end up in the place of torment (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man wants someone who has died and gone to heaven to come back to life and tell about his experience so that his family members will believe what the Scriptures teach about the consequences of failing to become united to Christ by faith.

In Jesus’ story Father Abraham says, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, (meaning, if they won’t believe what the Bible says) they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.” Jesus is saying that everything we need to put our faith in the promises of God, everything we need to find comfort and hope regarding the life beyond this life, can be found in the Scriptures.

Testimonies You Can Trust

There are only five testimonies of seeing into the realities of heaven that we are obligated to believe. These testimonies clearly develop rather than diminish biblical faith. There is Isaiah, who saw the Lord high and lifted up, seated on a throne (Isaiah 6); Ezekiel, who was given a vision of the future new heavens and new earth that he describes as garden-like city in the shape of a temple called The Lord Is There (Ezekiel 40-48); Stephen, who, before he was stoned by the people of Jerusalem “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God and said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:55-56); John, who saw the risen and glorified Jesus seated on the throne of the universe being worshiped by all the people of the earth, all the creatures of the earth, and all the angels of heaven (Revelation 1, 4); and the apostle Paul, who was caught up into the third heaven and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:1-7). Isn’t it interesting that Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, did not include details about what he saw in his personal guided tour of heaven and said, in fact, that it should not be talked about?

None of these witnesses claims to have died and come back to life. None of these testimonies focuses on meetings with other people who have died. These witnesses are clearly captivated by God alone. We read that they fell on their faces as their eyes beheld the glory of God radiating from his being.

Of course, the Bible does tell us about some people who died and came back to life. Yet it doesn’t see fit to record their testimony about the experience. Evidently it just isn’t worthy of being presented to us as a foundation for faith. If it were, wouldn’t there be a book of Lazarus in which he gives us a run-down on those four days in the grave before Jesus called him back to life (John 11)? Matthew tells us that when Jesus died, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt. 27:52). Amazingly that’s all we’re told. If the testimonies of those who have died and gone to heaven and come back to life provided something of value to help us to put our faith in the promises of God, wouldn’t the Gospels contain their testimonies?

How We Really Know Heaven Is Real

The question really isn’t about whether or not a 4-year-old’s description of heaven lines up with what the Scriptures teach. The question is whether or not we really believe that God in his Word “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). Admittedly the Bible does not provide as much detail about what awaits us beyond this life as some of us might like. It does tell us four significant things:

1. We will be with Christ (Luke 23:42-43Phil 1:21-23).

2. It will be far better than life on this earth (Phil 1:21-23).

3. We will be away from the body (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

4. Our spirits will be made perfect—completely cleansed of sin (Hebrews 12:22-23).

Since we know that to be at home with the Lord is to be away from the body, when one of these books describes physical bodies in heaven that are healed and whole, we know instantly that it is not a genuine account of the current realities of heaven. One day the physical bodies of those who are united to Christ will be healed and whole like the body of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 1 John 3:2). But that will not be until the day Christ returns and makes all things new. Right now “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).

Until then, we do not need the testimony of an impressionable 4-year-old boy, a neurosurgeon, spine surgeon, sports writer, or even a pastor to know that heaven is real. We have everything we need in the Bible. Its testimony is enough to generate genuine faith in Christ, as well as a greater longing for unending life in his presence.

Those Who Sleep in the Dust Will Awake

We buried our daughter, Hope, in the heat of June. Nothing in my life has ever felt so wrong as putting her body in the grave and simply walking away. Then came that October morning when there was frost on the ground and a nip in the air and the heat came on in our house for the first time, giving off the smell of burning dust. I lay in bed, feeling a wave of resistance and resentment toward the cold. I thought about the cold earth surrounding Hope’s body and I wept, feeling a sense of helplessness in surrendering her body to the coming winter. It’s a mom’s job to keep her child warm, isn’t it?

tombstone-on-the-grave-in-the-old-cemetery-fresh-mound-with-a-stone-crossAround that time, our neighborhood began the annual ritual of decorating for Halloween. When my neighbors hung their orange lights on October 1, it seemed a bit early, but I told myself it was no big deal. I didn’t want to be the Grinch of Halloween. I love a carved pumpkin, bales of hay, a few corncobs, and a silly costume. And I’m all for loading up on bite-size candy bars. But then came the afternoon in late October when I drove through the neighborhood and passed a house showcasing a hearse with a casket coming out the back. A few doors down, several skeletons were hanging from trees. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

In those days my thoughts were regularly drifting toward the decay of Hope’s body in the grave. I wondered how long it would take until there was little left of her except for bones. So I felt assaulted by my neighbors’ seemingly harmless hanging of skeletons in the trees. It seemed like they were celebrating the very thing that brought me intense pain. I couldn’t help but want to ask them, Have you ever had to bury someone you love? For the next few weeks, when I drove by, I did my best to look the other way.

People want to tell grieving people, “That’s not her, that’s just her body in the grave. She’s in heaven.” But they don’t understand. I loved and cared for that body. I knew her and loved her in context of that body. And so I’m grateful to know that her body matters to God too.

Made Like the Man of Dust

Genesis 2:7 tells us that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God chose the most lowly and humble matter possible—dust from the ground—and infused it with the most significant and glorious of all substances—his own breath. As Adam and Eve ate freely from the tree of life, all was well in the Garden. But then the serpent slithered in tempting them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did, everything changed. Sadly Adam and Eve could not avoid the effects of the curse that infiltrated all creation. The work that was supposed to fill Adam’s life with meaning would become frustrating. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,” God said to Adam, “for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Adam would now be buried in the ground, and his body would turn back into its dust.

Though the effects of this curse were devastating to Adam and to all who have descended from him, it was also laced with grace—the promise of an offspring of the woman who would one day walk in the dust of this earth, one who would come to put an end to death. Paul writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). He who existed in glory before the foundations of the world became a human, vulnerable to death—the kind of death that caused him to identify with the author of Psalm 22, who wrote, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” On the cross, Christ took upon himself the curse that destines every baby born on the earth to one day return to its dust. Yet because God did not let his Holy One see corruption (Psalm 16:10 cf. Acts 2:27), we know that we are not destined to be dust forever.

Re-Made like the Man of Heaven

We aren’t told everything we’d like to know about the bodies we will be given when Christ returns. But we do know that God intends to use the matter long buried in the ground or ashes that have been spread on the sea or stored in a box as the source material for bodies fit for the new heaven and new earth. He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Once again, God will breathe his own life into dust, but this time our bodies will not be vulnerable to disorder, disease, and death. We will be glorious!

It finally got cold enough this week for the heat to kick on at our house. And once again I smelled that familiar smell of dust being burned off the heating coils, and was reminded of the bitter reality of Hope’s body in the grave. It still moves me to tears. But it doesn’t have the power it once had to sink me into sadness. Tim Keller says that we have to “rub hope into the reality of death,” and I’m finding my confident hope in resurrection grows as the hope presented to us in the Scripture more thoroughly saturates my thoughts and emotions. Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive . . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:22, 49).

I believe that day is really coming. The sin of the man of dust will not get the last word in Hope’s life and death, nor mine. Instead, the man of heaven will come and call us to life. Everyone joined to him by faith can anticipate the day to come when once again, God will breathe his very own life into bodies that have become dust. We will experience all God promised when Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isa. 26:19). This hope enables us to endure life and death in the winter of this world.

Why Do We Say, ‘God Told Me’?

When someone begins a sentence with “God told me . . .” I have to admit a silent alarm goes off somewhere inside me—unless the phrase is followed by a verse of Scripture. I know that many see this as the way the Christian life is supposed to work—that if we are really in fellowship with God we will be able to sense him speaking to us through an inner voice. But I’m not so sure. And it’s not because I think God is incapable of or uninterested in speaking to his people today. In fact I resist this language precisely because God is speaking to his people today. He speaks to us through the Scriptures.

When we read the Scriptures we are not just reading a record of what God has said in the past. God actively speaks to us in the here and now through the words of this amazing book. The writer of Hebrews makes this point clear when he quotes Old Testament passages and presents them not as something God said to his people sometime in the past, but as something God is currently saying to his people (Hebrews 1:6,7,8, 2:12, 3:7, 4:7). He writes that “the word of God is living and active” (4:12). It is exposing our shallow beliefs and hidden motives. This word is personal.  You and I hear the voice of God speaking to us—unmistakably, authoritatively, and personally—when we read, hear, study, and meditate on the Scriptures.

Something More, Something Different

But many of us want something more, something different. We read the Scriptures and witness God speaking to individuals in amazing ways throughout the history of redemption. Job heard God speaking from the whirlwind. Moses heard him calling from the fiery bush. Samuel heard him calling in the dark. David heard him speak through the prophet Nathan. Isaiah felt the burning coal and heard assurance that his guilt was taken away and sin atoned for. Saul and those traveling with him on the road to Damascus heard Jesus asking why Saul was persecuting him. Prophets and teachers at Antioch heard the Holy Spirit tell them to set apart Barnabas and to send out Saul. John felt the glorified Jesus touch him and heard his assurance that he didn’t have to be afraid.

Many of us read these accounts and assume that the Bible is presenting the normal experience of all who follow God. But is it? Graeme Goldsworthy speaks to this question in his book Gospel and Wisdom. He writes, “Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person’s place in the outworking of God’s saving purposes.” He adds, “There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence.”

Are there instances in the Scriptures in which people describe a sense of God speaking to them through an inner voice? We read accounts of God speaking in an audible voice, through a supernatural dream or vision, a human hand writing on a wall, a blinding light, or a thunderous voice from heaven. This is quite different from the way most people who say that God has told them something describe hearing his voice—as a thought that came into their mind that they “know” was God speaking. One prominent teacher who trains people on how to hear the voice of God writes, “God’s voice in your heart often sounds like a flow of spontaneous thoughts.” But where in the Bible are we instructed to seek after or expect to hear God speak to us in this way?

Some who suggest that a conversational relationship with God is not only possible but even normative point to John 10 in which Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, saying, “My sheep hear my voice.” However, in this passage Jesus is not prescribing a method of ongoing divine communication. He is speaking to the Jews of his day using a metaphor they understand—a shepherd and his sheep. His point is that the elect among the Jews will recognize him as the shepherd the prophets wrote about and will respond to his call to repent and believe, as will the elect among the Gentiles so that they will become one flock, one church, with him at the head.

Longing for God’s Guidance

So why do we speak about hearing God in this way? We grew up being told that we must have a “personal relationship with God,” and what is more personal than hearing him speak to us about our individual issues and needs? Sometimes if we dig deep we realize we speak this way because we want to impresses others with our close connection to God and make sure they know we’ve consulted with him on the matter at hand. Another reason may be that to say, “God told me . . .” can prove useful to us. If you’ve asked me to teach children’s Sunday school this fall, it sounds far more spiritual and makes it far more difficult for you to challenge me if I say that God told me I need to sit in adult Sunday school with my husband than if I simply say that I don’t want to or have decided not to teach.

But I think there is something more at work here than simply our desire to sound spiritual or to make it difficult for someone to challenge our preferences or decisions. We genuinely long for God to guide us. We genuinely long for a personal word from God, a supernatural experience with God. Yet we fail to grasp that as we read and study and hear the Word of God taught and preached, it is a personal word from God. Because the Scriptures are “living and active,” God’s speaking to us through them is a personal, supernatural experience.

God has spoken and is, in fact, still speaking to us through the Scriptures. We don’t need any more special revelation. What we need is illumination, and this is exactly what Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit will give to us as his word abides in us. The Holy Spirit of God works through the Word of God to counsel and comfort and convict (John 16:7-15). Through the Scriptures we hear God teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Word of God transforms us by renewing our minds so that we think more like him and less like the world. Instead of needing God to dictate to us what to do, we become increasingly able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

I appreciate the way John Piper described his experience in hearing God speak through the Scriptures in his message “How Important is the Bible?” given at Lausanne 2010:

God talks to me no other way, but don’t get this wrong, he talks to me very personally. I open my Bible in the morning to meet my friend, my Savior, my Creator, my Sustainer. I meet him and he talks to me. . . . I’m not denying providence, not denying circumstances, not denying people, I’m just saying that the only authoritative communion I have with God with any certainty comes through the words of this book.

And if we want to go back a little further, Jonathan Edwards warned:

I . . . know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true saints, yea, eminent saints; and presently after, yea, in the midst of, extraordinary exercises of grace and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of Scripture strongly impressed on the mind, are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven: for I have known such impressions [to] fail, and prove vain.

What Difference Does It Really Make?

Does it really make a difference when we expect God to speak to us through the Scriptures rather than waiting to hear a divine voice in our heads? I think it does.

When we know that God speaks personally and powerfully through his Word, we don’t have to feel that our relationship to Christ is sub-par, or that we are experiencing a less-than Christian life if we don’t sense God giving us extra-biblical words of instruction or promise. When we know God speaks through his Word we are not obligated to accept—indeed, we can be appropriately skeptical toward—claims by any book, teacher, preacher, or even friend when they write or say, “God told me . .  .” We don’t have to wait until we hear God give us the go-ahead before we say “yes” or “no” to a request or make a decision. We can consult the Scriptures and rest in the wisdom and insight the Holy Spirit is developing in us and feel free to make a decision.

As we delight ourselves in the law of the Lord day and night, we can expect his Word to be living and active in our inmost parts. As that Word transforms us by the renewal of our minds, we will find that our thoughts and feelings, dreams and desires, are being shaped more by his Word than by our flesh. We will find that we are more drawn to obey his commands than to follow the culture. We will ask him for wisdom and receive it out of his generosity.

The Judgment and Mercy of Our Greater Joshua

To say the least, the battle plan given to Joshua as he led God’s people to take possession of the Promised Land was unconventional:

You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him. (Joshua 6:3-5)

Ancient battles were characterized by noise—not only the sounds of clashing swords and horses’ hooves but also the yells and chants of opposing armies seeking to intimidate one another with their bravado. But every day for six days the Israelites got up and marched around Jericho’s walls in absolute silence. The Canaanites inside the walls of Jericho must have felt a growing sense of dread over the days of silent marching, sensing something terrible might happen. They were right to be afraid because, finally, the seventh day came.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:20-21)

Judgement Delivered by Our Greater Joshua

Here in the Book of Joshua, we have a picture of the way our greater Joshua will lead us into God’s land at the end of human history—with a shout and the sound of trumpets. As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

This Old Testament historical narrative points beyond itself to the way our greater Joshua will deliver judgment on that day when all who persist in wickedness and unbelief will be “devoted to destruction.” On that great and terrible day when Christ returns, all those who have rejected his shed blood and perfect righteousness as their only hope will suffer the same fate as those who lived in Jericho. Rich and poor, great and small, young and old will face God’s fury when the commander of the Lord’s armies, who led the armies of Israel to kill every inhabitant of Jericho, will bring complete and final destruction on the city of man.

Mercy Made Possible by Our Greater Joshua

But this book that paints a picture of divine judgment on the Canaanites is also quick to ensure we see what happens to those who deserve judgment but cry out for mercy.

But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day. (Joshua 6:25)

Wait a minute. A prostitute and her family are the only people in Jericho spared? Who is this woman, and why is she “saved alive”? Joshua 2 recounts the story of two spies sent to Jericho before the rest of the Israelites crossed into Canaan. They made their way to the kind of place where an outsider might be able to go unnoticed while gleaning information about the city—the home, or inn, of a prostitute named Rahab.

Apparently, however, their presence didn’t go unnoticed. The king sent emissaries to Rahab’s home who demanded the two spies be brought out. At that point Rahab had a difficult decision to make. If she turned the two men over, she’d likely be rewarded. If she hid them, she’d be committing treason against Jericho and its king and, if discovered, would be put to death. But that is what she did, the risk she took. Why would she do that?

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:8-11)

Word had reached Canaan about what Yahweh had done to bring his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, as well as the victories he’d granted them over everyone who stood in their way. This made the Canaanites afraid of the Israelites, because they were afraid of Israel’s God. But evidently it did a deeper work in Rahab than merely producing terror. While the hearts of the rest of the people melted in fear, Rahab’s was melted into faith. She came to believe Yahweh was going to give the land to his people—something even the people of Israel were having a hard time believing—and she wanted in on God’s grace and goodness.

The judgment on the Canaanite city of Jericho was horrific, but someone was spared. And it wasn’t the most upstanding, most impressive, most religious, or most important person. It was the one who believed what God said and sought to come under his promise of grace for sinners. For anyone and everyone who seeks God’s mercy while it may be found, a salvation identical to Rahab’s is not only a possibility—but a certainty.

This article has been adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s new 10-week Bible study, The Son of David: Seeing Jesus in the Historical Books (Crossway, 2013). Guthrie will deliver a plenary talk from Nehemiah at our 2014 National Women’s Conference in Orlando next summer. Register here.

Born to Raise the Sons of Earth

There’s a line in the carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” that caught my attention this year that I don’t think I’ve noticed before. The line immediately prior, “Born that man no more may die,” has long been meaningful to me as one touched by the pain of death. Its truth has given me perspective in the midst of great sadness in the Christmas season by reminding me that what began in a manger will culminate on a cross where Jesus will “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Yet here we are, living in this world where there is still so much death. We keep thinking that if God were good he would sweep into this world and our lives and protect us from all this loss and pain, that he would put an end to disasters and disease and death.

And one day he will.

That’s the solid hope found in the next line of the song, which says, “Born to raise the sons of earth.” The good news about this baby is not that he will keep those who love him from suffering physical death. And the good news is not just that when we die, we will go to be with him—as good as that is. This Christmas carol is pointing us to the solid foundation and substance of our hope—the resurrection of all who are in Christ to an endless life with him.

The apostle Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). This passage draws a distinction between those who grieve with no hope and those who grieve with hope; and we want to be people who grieve with hope. So what is the nature or substance of the hope held out to us in this passage?

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with rhese words. (1 Thess. 4:14-18)

Notice that Paul didn’t command us to comfort one another with the truth that deceased Christians are in heaven, though we know that to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Rather, the apostle tells us to comfort one another with the promise of a day of resurrection to come. The substance of our hope is not merely a spirit-with-no-body existence in the presence of God. The substance of our hope is our spirits being reunited with our resurrected bodies fit for eternal enjoyment in the new heavens and new earth.

Our great hope is not just going to heaven when we die, though that is so wondrously good. But God has much grander plans. Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne—a king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will “raise the sons of earth” by transforming “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

The wonder of it made the herald angels want to sing. And as the wonder of it begins to sink in, it makes us want to sing, too.

50 Reasons I’m Having a Happy Birthday

I remember when I thought people who were the age I am about to turn on my birthday were . . . really old. Something about these big birthdays soberly reminds us that we likely have fewer years ahead of us than behind us. But do we have to so easily absorb the world’s attitudes about aging? Doesn’t the reality of Christ change everything about our lives, including the growing older part? If “to live is Christ,” shouldn’t that make a difference in the way we face these big number birthdays?

It is not at all lost on me that my “outer self is wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16). But because I have Christ, my “inner self is being renewed day by day.” All flesh is like grass, and let’s just say this grass is showing signs of withering. But the Word of the Lord remains forever (1 Peter 1:24-25). So here are 50 reasons I’m having a happy birthday.

1. I am made in the image and likeness of God, my life has been given great meaning and purpose by God, and he has breathed into me the breath of life (Genesis 1:26).

2. Anything and everything that someone may have intended for evil in my life, I know that God has intended for good. He has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (Genesis 41:52, 50:20).

3. God has delivered me from my bondage to sin and is feeding me with the Bread of Heaven, quenching my thirst with Living Water, and guiding me through this life in the wilderness with the light of his Word (Exodus 3, 13, 16, 17).

4. Though I was defiled and unclean, God has made me clean through the sacrifice of his Son and is even now making me holy so that I will be fit for an eternity in his presence (Leviticus 11-19).

5. The Lord has blessed me and kept me. He has made his face shine upon me and been gracious to me. He has lifted up his countenance upon me and given me peace (Numbers 6:22-26).

6. God has graciously given me his law so that I can know his divine nature and see how far I have fallen from his righteous standard. And best of all, he has given me Christ, who has fulfilled the law in my place and transferred to me his own perfect record of obedience (Deuteronomy 5).

7. God has given me an inheritance in his Promised Land, an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for me (Joshua 14, 1 Peter 1:4).

8. Though I often live like I do not have a king who rules over me, and I do what is right in my own eyes, Jesus is now seated on the throne of the universe, and he rules over me, having made me right in God’s eyes (Judges 21:25).

9. My Redeemer has spread his robe of righteousness over me and made me his bride so that I am no longer a stranger and alien, but a fellow citizen with the saints and member of the household of God (Ruth, Ephesians 2:19).

10. I have a champion who has gone out alone against the enemy of my soul who threatened to enslave me forever, and he has crushed his head. So thanks be to God, who gives me victory through my Lord Jesus Christ (1 Samuel 17, 1 Corinthians 15: 57).

11. Though two of my children will not return to me in this life, I will go to them (2 Samuel 12:23).

12. My citizenship is in a kingdom where I will eat and drink and be happy forever enjoying the riches and beauty of my all-wise king (1 Kings 4, Matthew 12:42).

13. The Lord is using ruined stones—people like me who have been burned by sin—to build a city he intends to live in forever (Nehemiah 4).

14. The king ruled that “the wages of sin is death.” But someone has interceded for me who was willing to perish, so that the king has issued another decree that will be my salvation: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Esther 4, Romans 6:23).

15. God has revealed himself to me in unmistakable, unavoidable ways through the storms in my life so that I can say, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

16. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God so that I can sing: The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places . . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16). Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6). And when my birthdays have run their course I’ll be able to say, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5).

17. I can be sure that Wisdom cries aloud in the street calling not just to me, but to my beloved son, to fear the Lord (Proverbs 31:25).

18. I am confident knowing that the day of my death will be better than the day of my birth. I will leave a world of fading, vanishing pleasures for a world of substantial, durable joys and delights (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

19. My beloved, David, is mine, and I am his. And his desire is for me (Song of Solomon 2:18, 7:10).

20. Christ was pierced for my transgressions; he was crushed for my iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought me peace, and with his wounds I am healed. I have gone astray; I have turned to my own way; and the LORD has laid on him my iniquity (Isaiah 53:5-6).

21. He has made me a partaker of his New Covenant having written his law on my heart. He is my God, and I am his. (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

22. I have hope because I know that the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness (Lamentations 3:21-23).

23. No matter what I may face in the future, I know the God whom I serve is able to deliver me. But if he does not, he will give me the grace I need to refuse to bow down to the gods of this world (Daniel 3:17-18, 1 Corinthians 12:9).

24. He has loved me though I have been unfaithful, and he has redeemed me at great cost. Though I deserve no mercy, he has shown me mercy. Though I deserve to be called, “Not My People,” He says to me, “You are my people”; and I say to him, “You are my God” (Hosea 2:23).

25. He has given me the sign of Jonah—in the belly of the earth for three days and then resurrected to life—so that I will know that one day I too will rise. On that day he will transform my lowly body to be like his glorious body (Jonah 2:9, Philippians 3:21).

26. I have a God who pardons iniquity and passes over transgression, who does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He has compassion on me and has cast my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19).

27. Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

28. Jesus has opened his arms and invited me to come to him, to take his yoke upon me and learn from him, and I am finding rest for my soul (Matthew 11:28-29).

29. Jesus has offered me the bread of his broken body to take and eat, and the cup of the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, including me (Mark 14:22-24).

30. God was good to give me earthly parents who knew how to give good gifts to their children, yet how much more my heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit when I ask him! (Luke 11:13)

31. Jesus did many signs which are not written in this book; but these are written so that I may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing I may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

32. In him I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).

33. There is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me; he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to my mortal body through his Spirit who dwells in me. The Spirit helps me in my weakness. For I do not know what to pray for as I ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for me with groanings too deep for words. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give me all things? For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord (Romans 8).

34. For now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

35. God is giving me opportunity to proclaim not myself, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with myself as a servant for Jesus’ sake. And I carry this treasure in a jar of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to me (2 Corinthians 4:5, 7).

36. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

37. I was dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ—by grace I have been saved—and raised me up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-7).

38. Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

39. God has canceled the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

40. God has not destined me for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

41. God has given me a passion and the opportunity to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

42. I have been given eyes to see the Son who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:1-3).

43. I do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with my weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as I am, yet without sin. So I can draw near to the throne of grace, confident that I will receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

44. While I lack wisdom, I ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it is given to me (James 1:5).

45. Though I have not seen him, I love him. Though I do not now see him, I believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of my faith, the salvation of my soul (1 Peter 1:8-9).

46. His divine power has granted to me all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called me to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to me his precious and very great promises, so that through them I may become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4).

47. If I confess my sins, he is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

48. He is able to keep me from stumbling and to present me blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 1:24).

49. One day I will be part of a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in our hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). Loud voices in heaven will say, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). And a loud voice from the throne will say, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3)

50. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20).


Praying Past Our Preferred Outcomes

It is one thing to be asked to pray for another person. I’m happy to do it. I want to do it. I must admit, though, I am not always faithful to do it. However, it is another thing to be told what to ask God for in the situation. I’ve noticed that often requests for prayer come with specific instructions on how to pray. I call it a “please pray for my predetermined positive outcome” request.

And while I’m questioning our accepted methods of requesting prayer, I’ve got to ask, why do we seem to make it our goal to get as many people as possible praying toward our predetermined positive outcome? Is it that we think God is resistant to doing what is good and right but can be pressured by a large number of people to relent and deliver? Do we think that the more people we recruit to pray for the same thing will prove our sincerity or improve our odds?

Praying for a Miracle?

I suppose I really began to think about these things during the season in which we were caring for our daughter, Hope, who was born with a fatal genetic disorder. I remember getting a call from the secretary at our church. “We’ve put you on the prayer list,” she said, “and we’re asking people to pray that God will do a miracle and heal Hope.” Honestly it was a little awkward to tell her that while that was fine, it wasn’t the way we were praying. Our reluctance to pray in this way had nothing to do with whether or not we thought God is powerful enough to do that kind of miracle. This is the God who spoke the world into being. No question he could do it.

So how were praying for Hope? I wish I could tell you that I was a great woman of prayer in those difficult days. Truth is, I wasn’t. I was really grateful that so many people were praying for us, no matter what they were praying, because I didn’t have many words, mostly just groans and tears. I was grateful to know that the Holy Spirit was interceding for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:36). When I was able to sputter out a prayer, it was shaped most profoundly by something a friend said to me on the phone a couple of days after Hope was born. She said that I could be confident that God would accomplish the purpose he had for Hope’s life in the number of days that he gave to her. So in my prayers I began to welcome him to accomplish that purpose. I prayed that my own sin and selfishness and small agendas would not hinder his purpose. I prayed that that his purpose for Hope’s life would be enough for me, even a joy to me.

Not Meaningless or Random

If we really believe that God is purposeful in suffering, that our suffering is not meaningless or random, shouldn’t that affect how we pray about the suffering in our lives and in the lives of others? As it is, we pretty much only know how to pray for suffering to be removed—for there to be healing, relief, restoration. Praying for anything less seems less than compassionate. But shouldn’t the purposes for suffering we find in Scripture guide our prayers more than our predetermined positive outcomes? We could make a very long list of purposes for which God intends to use suffering according to the Scripture. But here are just a few:

  • To put God’s glory on display (John 9:3)
  • To make the life of Jesus evident (2 Cor. 4:10-11)
  • To live out genuine faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
  • To cause us to depend on him more fully (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
  • To reveal hidden sin or keep us from sin (2 Cor. 12:7)
  • To experience that Christ is enough (2 Cor. 12:9)
  • To discipline us for holiness (Hebrews 12:10-11)
  • To equip us to comfort others (1 Cor. 1:3)
  • To make us spiritually mature (James 1:2-5)
  • To make us fruitful (John 15:2)
  • To shape us into Christ’s likeness (Romans 8:29)
  • To share in the suffering of Christ (Philippians 3:10)

What would happen if we allowed Scripture to provide the outcomes we prayed toward? What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture? Scripture provides us with a vocabulary for expanding our prayers for hurting people far beyond our predetermined positive outcomes. Instead of praying only for relief, we begin to pray that the glory of God’s character would be on display in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are praying. We pray for the joy of discovering that the faith we have given lip service to over a lifetime is the real deal. We ask God to use the difficulty to make us less self-reliant and more God-reliant. Rather than only begging him to remove the suffering in our loved ones’ lives, we ask him to make them spiritually fruitful in the midst of suffering he chooses not to remove.

What Is Prayer?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Young Children asks the question, what is prayer? The answer: “Prayer is asking God for things which he has promised to give.” Are we praying for things God has promised to give—like his presence with us, his Word guiding us, his power working in us, his purpose accomplished through us? Or are we limited to praying only for what he has not promised to give—complete physical healing and wholeness in the here and now?

To go deeper than praying only for deliverance means that we approach prayer not as a tool to manipulate God to get what we want, but as a way to submit to what he wants. Through prayer we draw close to him in our need. We tell him that we will not insist on our predetermined positive outcome but want to welcome him to have his way, accomplish his purpose.

Joy to This Cursed World

“Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Merry Christmas!”

“Happy New Year!”

As the end of the year approaches, everywhere we turn someone is telling us we should be happy. But for families who’ve lost someone they love, the holidays can seem more like something to survive than to enjoy. The traditions and events that can add so much joy and meaning to the season are punctuated with painful, repeated reminders of loss. Many grieving people wish they could find a quiet place to hide until January 2.

So is there any joy to be found in the midst of the holidays when you are grieving the loss of someone you love?

Still Infested

When you’re grieving, the songs you have sung in church your whole life suddenly sound different. Phrases that easily rolled off your tongue, that you barely thought about before, now bring tears. This one was significant for me after my daughter died:

O that with yonder sacred throng, we at his feet may fall,

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown him Lord of all.

Never before had I pictured faces of people gathered around the throne of God when I sang this, but now I could saw a face I recognized in that “yonder sacred throng.”

Other songs presented me with truth that challenged my doubts about God’s goodness:

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,

Shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!

Hast thou not seen how thy desires all have been

Granted in what he ordaineth?

In those days of grief, I could not help but want to argue with these words even as they instructed me.

When Christmas rolled around, there again I heard all-too-familiar lyrics with new ears—especially these:

No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

As I worked through the question of why my daughter was born with a fatal genetic disorder, it became clear that the effects of sin have infiltrated every part of creation, including our genetic code. I had developed a deepening sorrow over the pain caused by the effects of sin in this broken world. And when I sang these words, I struggled a bit with them because I knew that thorns still infest the ground.

Far as the Curse Is Found?

Like many others, I have sung “Joy to the World” my whole life. Perhaps because I did not think through the lyrics deeply, I assumed that this was a song about the first coming of Christ as a baby, since we often sing it at Christmas. But how can that be, since this song celebrates the eradication of the curse, which is still a part of our present reality?

The song we sing as “Joy to the World” is Isaac Watts’s rendering of Psalm 98, which is about the coming of the Lord. What becomes clear, in light of what we know about the first coming of Christ as a suffering servant, is that Psalm 98 is more about his second coming as triumphant king. When Jesus came the first time, earth did not receive her king but instead hung him on a cross. Even after his death and resurrection, sin and sorrow still grow, and the thorny effects of the curse remain. The nations do not yet prove the glories of his righteousness.

But when Christ comes again, all will be different. Every knee will bow this time. It won’t be just be humanity celebrating his coming; the earth itself will rejoice. The curse will finally be gone for good so that all of creation will be set free from decay to worship Christ. People from every tribe and nation will gladly crown him as king. This is why there is so much joy in “Joy to the World.” It anticipates joy when Christ comes the second time—when the kingdom he established at his first coming will be consummated as the reality we will live in forever.

So it is possible to have a happy Thanksgiving, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year—even when that joy is mixed with sorrow. Hope and joy at Christmas come from knowing that Christ’s life that began in a cradle ended on a cross. His death-conquering death was followed by resurrection, the first-fruits of all who will one day rise from their graves. Because of his death and resurrection, we can be sure that the day will come when we sing together like never before, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found!” On that day, we will look each other in the eye and say, “This was worth waiting for! The curse is gone for good! Our hearts, minds, and bodies are no longer broken but healed and whole! We put our hope in Christ, and he has proved worthy of our trust!”

How Could God Ask That?

In our Sunday school class circle we were discussing Genesis 22, the account of God coming to Abraham and telling him to take his beloved son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. “I have always struggled with this story,” one man in the class said. “I just can’t understand how God could ask Abraham to do that. It just seems so cruel.”

Many of us have struggled to understand what seems like an outrageous request. And it is not only this command to Abraham that confounds us. We also read about Jacob’s wrestling in the dark with God throughout the night until finally God wrenched his hip, leaving him with a limp, and we wonder why God would do that. We read about God telling Hosea to marry a prostitute, to have children with her, and eventually to buy her back from the slave market even though she is already his, and we think we can hear Hosea’s heart breaking. We read about God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh to call Israel’s enemies to repentance, and when we get the full picture that these are the Assyrians who have slaughtered Jonah’s fellow Israelites and hauled them off to concentration camps, we think this is simply too much to ask of any man.

We are a bit offended on their behalf. How could God ask this of them?

And we’re also a bit afraid. Might God ask something like this of me?

Outrage to Adoration

Perhaps we’re meant to feel a bit appalled. Perhaps it is not until we feel a sense of outrage over these seemingly unfair requests that we can be prepared to feel an appropriate sense of wonder when we begin to see what we’re meant to see in these difficult-to-swallow scenarios. When we begin to see what God intends for us to see, our outrage gives way to adoration, consternation gives way to worship, and horror melts into humility before a God who, rather than asking the unthinkable of us, has done the unimaginable for us.

Why would God ask Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice? Is God trying to teach us that we should be willing sacrifice what is most precious to us? No. This story is not recorded to inspire sacrifice to God. Instead, it paints in vivid colors the sacrifice of God. The point of this story is not to convince you that you must be willing to sacrifice to God what is most precious to you, but rather to prepare you to take in the magnitude of the gift when you see that God was willing to sacrifice what was most precious to him—his own beloved Son—for you.

When we read the story of Jacob and see him walking away with a limp, we’re not meant to assume that God intends for us to suffer this way if we want to experience his blessing. Jacob, who wrested in the dark to gain a blessing for himself, points us to One greater than Jacob who wrestled in the dark of Gethsemane and was crushed by death itself so that he might gain a blessing for us.

When we read the story of Hosea, we need not fear that God might call us to marry an unfaithful spouse just to make a point through our misery. Instead, we’re meant to see that Jesus will join himself to an unfaithful wife—you and me—and make us his pure bride. He will go to the slave market of sin and buy us back at the cost of his own blood.

And when we read the story of Jonah and see him sent to people he has every right to hate because of who they are and what they’ve done, we’re not meant to assume that God is going to require this of us, but rather that he will require it of himself. Jesus will leave heaven to go to a people who deserve to be treated with contempt because of who they are and what they’ve done, yet he will show them grace. He will not be sad when they repent, but will, instead, shed tears over their refusal to repent.

If we read the Bible assuming that we are expected to follow in the footsteps of those who are featured in its pages, we will find ourselves always trying harder to sacrifice and obey but never measuring up. We’ll assume that God asks us to do things that will make us miserable just to put us through a test of our allegiance—diminishing, rather than magnifying God in our hearts. But when we read the Bible recognizing that it is not about what we must do for him, but about what he has done for us through Christ, rather than being offended by what we fear he may ask of us, we find rest in what he has done for us.

Editor’s note: Tune in tonight at 7:00 PM EDT to hear Nancy Guthrie on DG Live. And be sure to check out her brand new website, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament.