Grieving a Variety of Losses with a Full Heart

Losing my first daughter in this life was categorically different than losing the era of my second daughter’s precious newborn days. With the latter, sorrow lingered for weeks and tears lasted for days. With the former, tears remained for months—and they still come, sometimes unexpectedly.  

Some varieties of grieving are more life-altering than others—what was lost differs. But I experienced a string of similarity connecting these experiences: a familiar ache has accompanied both, yes.  

But further, as God is at the core of my heart’s focus, I am able to grieve with a full one. 

Remembrance of Goodness Because of God 

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done” (Psalm 105:5) 

While we cannot return to the past, it can enrich our lives right now through remembering. We remember the good gifts we have received and that is a way to consider the moving hand of God in our lives.  

I have known God’s gracious provision. In remembering, I acknowledge the Lord who gave—who sacrificed so that I can be alive on this earth and the new one to come. Who is present to bestow all that I enjoy and have enjoyed. And, who holds the changing world together by his changeless might.  

Grieving often effuses into artful acts of remembrance to honor past works of God’s kindness. Because these acts are not what hold the meaning of the gift, they need not be emotionally confused with the good gifts themselves or the God who gave. Were all acts of remembrance destroyed—all letters, pictures, mementos, non-profit organizations, donations, books, blog posts—the original gifts are untouched.  

From the Creator stems the value of every life, gift, and season. And tied to his eternality, the value of what has honored him in this life already endures into the next. 

Lamenting to God When Others Cannot Understand 

“You must follow me.” (John 21:22) 

For those who are not gifted in empathy and who also do not share the experience of a similar loss, entering into the particulars of another’s grieving can be a tremendous challenge. Not all experience the same areas of sorrow; not all have been given the specific comfort of God so that they can comfort me in mine (John 21:21-22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 

In short, those who grieve do not always feel understood by others—it’s an expectation not often realistic of mere people. 

But even God might feel distant. Even so, we as his children are infinitely more familiar to him than he is to us. I remember with love what I no longer have, and perhaps you do too. Your home country, your earliest season of motherhood, your work prior to spending days wonderfully at home with your children that was fulfilling in a different sense, or another beloved person or part of your life that is not with you now.  

You cannot now literally see what you have lost, but you can recall it—and neither do we see God. So conflating the two experiences, especially when sorrowing, can be tempting. But he does not merely recall who we are from a distance. He calls us to mind as those he sees and for whom he has sacrificed to bring near (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25)—how we might regard him differs so greatly from how he regards us. 

God knows my sorrow (Matthew 26:36-46)—and not only my sorrow. He knows the very course of my life. Theoretically, should any unabating desire outside of God’s plans for me be presently fulfilled this moment, what would I ultimately gain? Without Christ, all is loss (Philippians 3:7-8). Even with tears of sorrow, I desire God’s plan for my life. I want my life to produce the glory he has ordained from my brief days on this ground.  

Instead of letting silent dreams fester within me, I have found that grieving my pains before God—lamenting them before the one who understands my life’s trajectory perfectly—allows me to receive the sweet answer of his sovereignty. Lament before this kind of God can introduce to my spirit a holy, more unreserved embrace of my past tears and my veiled future that both promise his glory, as I follow his ways.  

So, I have not merely told others my sorrows, and I have not merely let pain pile when others could not fully relate. I have told my sorrows to the Lord who superintends all, and says to me through his word—in all of his divinity after rising from his own cross—“follow me.” 

What Is Behind Invigorates Joy for What Is Ahead  

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) 

Memories can be overpowering, yet peace in going forward without what has been lost can be found when what’s ahead in my heavenly country becomes more greatly desired than even the sweetness of preceding days (Hebrews 11:16).  

Accompanying grief is the possibility to sense more of the eternal joy to come; the vapid character of earthly life magnifies an illustrious future. And along the way to our home, alongside sorrow, we do receive gifts—like snippets of what’s to come, as we attend to them with grateful joy.  

When I see God face-to-face, may I only thank him for the gifts he gave, for the sovereign plan he could devise to graciously bring me into all goodness, for the way he beckoned me to follow his ways through the trajectory he has foreseen for me from all eternity, and for all of the joys he planted here that are actually the mere inaugural seeds. 

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Lianna DavisSuffering
Tucked Within; Flooding Out

Recently, in a box that was long overdue to be unpacked, I found this pen tucked within a piece of packing paper—likely originating from a conference a few years ago.

But as I picked it up, it newly represented to me a kind, wise, prayerful, and supportive team of people who publish a line of women’s Bible studies and have welcomed a study on the book of Jude from me.

Here is the vision for Moody Publishers Women Bible Studies—a vision that helped to inspire me to submit my proposal for their consideration:

  • Women’s ministry leaders across the country have told us that they are seeking in-depth, no-fluff Bible studies, and we have listened. Our theologically rich studies are drenched in Scripture, often going verse-by-verse so women can dive deep.

  • Many studies tend to focus on the author or reader, but we intentionally focus our studies on God and the difference HE makes. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1)

  • Our prayer is that God will use these Bible studies for lasting transformation. We hope they start a ripple effect of women growing in their understanding of God’s Word, becoming more like Him, and inspiring others to do likewise. (Source)

I find the Lord tucking within me as I write this study a renewed joy in existing convictions:

  • The Word is eminently worthy of being studied.

  • The Word has already been studied down the ages by those advanced in their understandings, whose input I intently welcome.

  • The Word is necessary for my spirit to live each day and to prevent the world from slipping into me; the Word keeps me in the love of the Lord.

  • And finally, the Word is my authority as I learn and write. Accordingly, at a number of junctions, I have changed what I originally thought I might write, once the more research had been done.

With these beliefs, timeless truths from Jude flood through the waves of my fingers over the keyboard. (Composing the manuscript with my MP pen might be a bit cumbersome by comparison, no matter how symbolic. Alas.)

Lord willing and if He tarries, more is obviously to come (including the book itself in January of 2020). And as you study the Scriptures now and in days to come, in the words of Jude (v. 2): “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”

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Lianna DavisJude Study
God Will Dwell with Man, Be Glad

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, “My name shall be there,” that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.
—1 Kings 8:27-29

King Solomon, did you hear about the Messiah being called the Lord of the Sabbath who is greater than the temple, the embodiment of it (Matthew 12:6)? Did you hear, following His perfect sacrifice, of God intending to dwell with man, announced with a loud voice (Revelation 21:3)—a declaration matched to man’s innermost desire? Did you know of the God-Man who will sit on Jerusalem’s throne (Luke 1:32-33)? And did you know that the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord, who will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15)? 

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” you pose in your dedication prayer of the temple (1 Kings 8:27a). 

You knew the name of the Lord would be with you (1 Kings 8:29), and you also knew that the one true God could know no containment (1 Kings 8:27)—thus, your question of awe. But King Solomon, even more poignant is your question to consider now! God has given further promises, since your time, about the manifestation of His presence.

Will He? Will God dwell with man? King Solomon marveled—and so do I—at what God will do. As Solomon’s dedication prayer progresses, he ends up pointing to God’s Word (1 Kings 8:29), concluding with awe: God has said He would put His name upon this place. So it will be.

Even more, God has spoken prophetic promises for present-day believers to trust:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.

[…] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 21:3, 6a)

So it will be.

King Solomon was astonished as he put together seemingly-precarious pieces of theology in his prayer, as if saying, “My great God knows no bounds, and yet He will choose to especially dwell with man in this house? I take Him at His marvelous word!” God’s greatness goes beyond the limitlessness of His presence, being great in all of who He is. Solomon’s question only becomes more perplexing when considered in light of God’s great holiness—a theme Solomon proceeds to consider as the prayer reaches its conclusion. How will the holy God of heaven dwell with sinful man? 

He has planned a sure way: one temple foreshadowed another. The sacrifices in one pointed to the perfect sacrifice of the One, and the way for redemption of sinners. Ultimately, this way, this plan, is at the crux of the revelatory glory God destined in great love to bring from His earthly creation—culminating in Christ:

New Testament writers proclaim that the glory of God’s nature, character, power, and purpose is now open to view in the person and role of God’s incarnate Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:14–18; 2 Cor. 4:3–6; Heb. 1:1–3).

God’s glory, shown forth in the plan and work of grace whereby he saves sinners, is meant to call forth praise (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14), that is, the giving of glory to God by spoken words (cf. Rev. 4:9; 19:7).[1]

Matthew Henry writes on the certainty of God completing His plan for this world—from initial creation to a new heaven and a new earth—in his commentary on Revelation 21:3:

As his power and will were the first cause of all things, his pleasure and glory are the last end, and he will not lose his design; for then he would no longer be the Alpha and Omega.[2]

God’s purpose to dwell with His people through Christ is sure: “It is finished!” and “It is done!” (John 19:30, Revelation 23:6). And the glory His people will forever ascribe to Him is as good as accomplished. 

Intertwined together are these: the glory of God and the keeping of His revealed design. Such hope—that God would so tie His glory to dwelling with a people of His creation—is confounding, comforting, and best of all, true.

Consequently, the Christian’s glory-giving to God is also tied to gladness about His plans: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!” (Revelation 19:7a). When tempted to confine our thoughts to the troubles of this present world, what an incentive to not resist the coming of awe and confident, celebratory within our souls—despite whatever difficulty our joy must pierce through on this earth in order to exist. We know His plan: God with us. 

Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.
—1 Kings 8:56

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Lianna DavisHope, Joy
Imitating Jonathan Edwards' Godly Parenting

Words filled with biblical truth spoken into an air of uncertainty must be among the most agonizing parents can deliver to a child. Will children receive the Scriptures as foolishness or as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)? The answer is not always known.

As parents, if closeness with our children were the only aim when they approach us with their fears and pains, we might restrict our replies to: “God is near. He is with you” or “God aches with you.” I find momentous biblical truth about the character of God in each of these replies (Hebrews 13:5; Lamentations 3:32-33). 

Yet, when in self-sacrificial love for our children we prioritize their relationships with God over and above their relationships with us, more biblical counsel emerges. This counsel potentially puts the parent-child relationship at risk for the sake of their good (Matthew 19:29) and sends us in prayer toward a God who draws people to himself.

Jonathan Edwards and His Daughter, Esther

Jonathan Edwards offered this kind of self-sacrificial love to his daughter, Esther. He wrote the following words to her when she was ill. His words meet the reality of the world’s sorrows:

I would not have you think that any strange thing has happened to you in this affliction: ‘Tis according to the course of things in this world, that after the world’s smiles, some great affliction soon comes.[1]  

He counsels her to make the time of illness useful within her spirit:

God has now given you early and seasonable warning not at all to depend on worldly prosperity. 

Having humility before God about her earthly illness would foster contentment in eternal rest. If she cannot improve her circumstance on this earth, Edwards advises she look to the eternal glory God might glean from her difficult season:

Therefore I would advise….if it pleases God to restore you, to lot upon no happiness here. 

Labour while you live, to serve God and do what good you can, and endeavor to improve every dispensation to God’s glory and your own spiritual good, and be content to do and bear all that God calls you to in this wilderness, and never expect to find this world any thing better than a wilderness. 

Lay your account to travel through it in weariness, painfulness, and trouble, and wait for your rest and your prosperity ‘till hereafter where they that die in the Lord rest from their labours, and enter into the joy of their Lord. 

He encourages his daughter to give herself wholly to the Lord in suffering. He can deliver challenging, truth-focused counsel because he has already made the same commitment to the Lord in his life. As a loving parent, being at a distance from his child without hope for future visits would undoubtedly be painful. 

But the exemplary nature of his contented commitment to God is on display when writing to his suffering daughter who is out of his reach, across many miles.  

You are like to spend the rest of your life (if you should get over this illness) at a great distance from your parents, but care not much for that. If you lived near us, yet our breath and yours would soon go forth, and we should return to our dust, whither we are all hastening. 

‘Tis of infinitely more importance to have the presence of an heavenly Father, and to make process towards an heavenly home. Let us all take care that we may meet there at last.[2]

He delivers world-denying hope in courageous words to a hurting child. First, by speaking challenging thoughts he risks that his words might be met with disagreement causing relational distance.

Second, he speaks words for the good of his child, without thought of himself. He advises his daughter to “care not much for” being near or far from him—so long as she remains near to the Lord. Edwards clearly has no greater joy than that his daughter would walk in the truth (3 John 1:4).

My Own Parenting

I do not want any less than what Edwards exemplifies. I would not ultimately want a pleasant-enough relationship with my daughter to the detriment of considering eternity—heaven and hell—together. Truth may be agonizing, at times, to convey—but these kinds of words are good; they are love. Speaking them is the kind of risk God asks me to take for the sake of Christ and the good of my daughter (Romans 10:14).

When my daughter is grown, I want her to see parents like Edwards. I want us to be rightfully content in the Lord so that our only request and hope is that she walk with the Lord to eternity. Edwards’ counsel is compelling, in part, because he is true to maintaining an eternal focus himself. To ask my daughter to follow me in contentment where I have never been would prove challenging! 

Ultimately, Edwards and his daughter are brought closer together through this focus. Esther writes of their relationship:

Last eve I had some free discourse with My Father on the great things that concern my best interest—I opened my difficulties to him very freely and he as freely advised and directed. 

The conversation has removed some distressing doubts that discouraged me much in my Christian warfare—He gave me some excellent directions to be observed in secret that tend to keep the soul near to God, as well as others to be observed in a more publick way—What a mercy that I have such a Father! Such a Guide![3]

Every decision of faith in the Lord is solely each individual’s to make. But, parents can aid their children’s individual decisions by refusing to create a relational dynamic intent on bringing us a sense of happiness and fulfillment. 

Looking to Edwards and his Esther, as a type of Christ-exalting relationship, we can continue to aim higher, with prayerful hope, for the kind of rich comradery that flows when both parties, by God’s grace, love the truth and content themselves in the Lord alone.

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Lianna DavisMothering, Featured
Seven Resolutions for Unfulfilled Longings

To have both longings and peace simultaneously might seem contradictory. While longings might be associated with unrest, I have come to see my unresolved longings filled with peace—and more, I have seen them re-purposed.

First, a clarification: As I see it, good unfulfilled longings are those desires compatible with the holy will of God (i.e. not intrinsically wrong or evil) that are not within his present will for me (i.e. within his wise outworking of my life for his glory and my good). Of this kind of longing, which I am calling good unfulfilled/unresolved longings, I write here.

Because, as believers, we walk “by faith, not by sight” on this earth (2 Cor. 5:7), we are not assumed to understand all that comes (or does not come) into our lives, understand all of the intentions or plans of God (or the seeming silence), or understand all of the reasons some desires remain unresolved at present (while others that feel less important are resolved). 

But knowing we will stand before the Lord one day—seeing at last the one who has dealt wondrously with us—we “make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9) in what the apostle Paul calls the “groans” of this life before we are overcome with heavenly glory (2 Cor. 5:2). With this aim, I desire to resist temptations to be pulled away from devotedness to the Lord. To that end, here is a set of proposed resolutions:

(1) I will not draw self-created and assumption-based lines between my desires and any necessary implications in God’s plans for me. God alone is God—and he is not beholden to my feelings. 

I assume that when God says he will give me the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4b), this means he first guides my desires. The beginning of the verse is indispensable to understanding his guidance: “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4a). Consequently, my directing desire—or, my desire under which all other desires must fall into compliance—is to be living for his sake. God is not subject to my feelings; my feelings are best directed by my delight in him.

(2) When I come to see or understand that one sketch I had conceived for honoring God through my life is not viable, I will not cause myself to be stuck. 

I intend to willingly lay down my prior path and trust that he can show me a new way to pleasing him—a detour around the plans I previously knew. And I will trust that in the mind of the Lord, a holy longing unfulfilled is not a detour, but my exact path to pleasing him most. 

(3) I will not doubt that his sovereign plan and goodness prevail when the sketch of my life—that I had formed—fades. 

When the trajectory for my life that I had envisioned is not realized, I will assume that occurrence as one more positive reassurance within me that I am not sovereign or all-wise, like God, such that I can plan what will work out for my ultimate good on this earth. I will welcome with gratitude every new assurance that he is God, and I am not. 

(4) I may be groaning with raw longings, but I will not seek an ultimate remedy for them apart from God. I will let them remain raw—if needed—and let them be his. 

When I let my longings be as they are, and let them ache, I find I am exceedingly sensitive to the touch of God’s Word. The suffering Savior alone is comfort; his intercession for me before God alone means peace and perseverance; the skies that will yield to his coming alone promise the display of my hope. I will not numb my longings with sin; I will let myself be open to him.

(5) I will trust that whatever I bypass on my revised life trajectory—even if what I bypass is good in principle—would not have been good in his sovereign plan for me to have.

Not only do I trust that God’s path will best allow me to serve him, I trust that his path will indeed be best for me. And when I peer closer—as I must—I find that the two are not disconnected. For I do not know what is better for me than serving him. 

(6) I will pray that the truth of his sovereign goodness becomes so lifted in my sights that my joy about him outweighs the ache of what I do not have.

I may be required to interact with the joy I know of God’s character differently than how I would have interacted with the joy that my unfulfilled longing would have brought. Meaning, the latter would have been tactile and tangible, and the joy I do know of God’s sovereignty and goodness are often neither of those, but spiritual in nature. The experience is different. But the theological/spiritual command no less direct bearing upon me—but more when considered rightly. Through the Word of God, the voice of God speaks to my spirit, and I trust that the joy I find there can outweigh other possible good. 

(7) I will not so diminish God in my sights as to believe another life sketch to be better than him. 

Another path that I envisioned for my life would have brought joy; my desire was not wrong, and I cannot—in fact, I should not—deny it. Yet, no good path can prevail over and above the goodness of who God is. And so, I compare the two. I determine to compare. Specifically, I find that God himself is my good all the time, in every fulfilled or unfulfilled longing. That this goodness remains when longings go unfulfilled leads me to thankfulness.  

When the disciple Peter started to weigh his life’s difficult trajectory against factors outside of a peace-filled singular commitment to the Lord, Christ pointedly and simply responded, “…what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22b). And when I am called on a groaning earth through the way of unfulfilled longings, I think of the same penetrating words: “You follow me.” 

God has asked me on this “revised” life trajectory; he is the one saying “follow.” Associated with him I perceive these longings to be ennobled; following God through the ache matters to him. In this my unfulfilled longings are filled with divine purpose. 

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"Made for a Different Land" Release and Highlight Trailer

Today, I am sharing the newly released Made for a Different Land highlight trailer by Anchored Films in partnership with Hope Mommies.

Thinking and dreaming about my little babe
Left with so few memories made
Caught thinking, “After she comes home…”—but she never can

A balloon released across the skies
Watching, nearer than I think, my God all-wise
Having hope of my baby made safe by His sacrifice

A mother with no child to mother
An announcement with no introduction to follow
A nursery, but no baby to swaddle

Thinking about a different land
A place of perfection, worshiping the Lamb
I grieve, but for my baby I see the gracious plan

For a different land we were both made
“So long for now, precious babe!”
We’ll worship Him together when I too am heavenly awake

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Lianna Davis
The Humblest and Highest One, Isa. 53:4 | Out of Tomes

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

— ISAIAH 53:4 ESV

Introduction

As I await Christ’s glorious second coming, I do not miss the greater difficulty and, in a sense, the superior grandeur of His first mission. God was not esteemed. God was not esteemed? And yet, the humblest has been most highly exalted (Matt. 23:12; Phil. 2:9).

All that we might witness in Jesus’ first coming—all of the peace He brought, the sorrows He bore, the friendship toward mankind! Can I look at God’s awe-inspiring character and step forward asking Him to bring peace to my life on my terms? When I look to this God and what He has done, I think: He is beautiful. May I become more like Him, the epitome of humility and service.

Now, have you come to Christ for peace and left wanting?

Perhaps that is because you have not yet known that God defines mankind’s needs, in addition to mankind’s way to peace; perhaps you do not yet agree with God about your needs. John Calvin reflects that Christ came not merely to cure bodies, but to cure souls. Through faith in Christ, the eternal penalty for sin is removed and the soul is able to esteem the Baby we celebrate at Christmastime as Lord. All people are born in sin—all people are born needing to make a transfer of allegiance from serving self to serving Christ.

He came to give Himself up for all who would come to Him so that we might have the privilege of giving ourselves up to this humblest and highest One. Be reassured that peace can be found on these terms—the Lord’s terms—and that it is free to all who would come.

Come!

Quotations

…Christ cured various diseases; though it is certain that he was appointed not to cure bodies, but rather to cure souls; for it is of spiritual disease that the Prophet intends to speak. But in the miracles which Christ performed in curing bodies, he gave a proof of the salvation which he brings to our souls. That healing had therefore a more extensive reference than to bodies, because he was appointed to be the physician of souls; and accordingly Matthew applies to the outward sign what belonged to the truth and reality.

—John Calvin

The passages in which Christ is represented as a sacrifice for sin, are too numerous to be here specially considered. The New Testament, and particularly the Epistle to the Hebrews, as before remarked, declares and teaches, that the priesthood of the old economy was a type of the priesthood of Christ; that the sacrifices of that dispensation were types of his sacrifice; that as the blood of bulls and of goats purified the flesh, so the blood of Christ cleanses the soul from guilt; and that as they were expiations effected by vicarious punishment, in their sphere, so was the sacrifice of Christ in the infinitely higher sphere to which his work belongs. Such being the relation between the Old Economy and the New, the whole sacrificial service of the Mosaic institutions, becomes to the Christian an extended and irresistible proof and exhibition of the work of Christ as an expiation for the sins of the world, and a satisfaction to the justice of God.

The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah.

It is not however only in the typical services of the old economy that this great doctrine was set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah this doctrine is presented with a clearness and copiousness which have extorted assent from the most unwilling minds. The prophet in that chapter not only foretells that the Messiah was to be a man of sorrows; not only that He was to suffer the greatest indignities and be put to a violent death; not only that these sufferings were endured for the benefit of others; but that they were truly vicarious, i.e., that He suffered, in our stead, the penalty which we had incurred, in order to our deliverance. This is done not only in those forms of expression which most naturally admit of this interpretation, but in others which can, consistently with usage and the analogy of Scripture, be understood in no other way. To the former class belong such expressions as the following, “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Our griefs and our sorrows are the griefs and sorrows which we deserved. These Christ bore in the sense of enduring, for He carried them as a burden.

Charles Hodge

At this point let us speak of His healings. Isaiah says thus: He took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses: (Isa. liii. 4) that is to say, He shall take, and shall bear. For there are passages in which the Spirit of God through the prophets recounts things that are to be as having taken place. For that which with God is essayed and conceived of as determined to take place, is reckoned as having already taken place: and the Spirit, regarding and seeing the time in which the issues of the prophecy are fulfilled, utters the words (accordingly). And concerning the kind of healing, thus will He make mention, saying: In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and in darkness and in me the eyes of the blind shall see. 

Irenaeus

He had not come on earth to take a kingdom, but to die. He had not come to reign and be ministered to; but to shed his blood as a sacrifice, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

It is almost impossible for us to conceive how strange and incomprehensible these tidings must have seemed to his disciples. Like most of the Jews, they could form no idea of a suffering Messiah. They did not understand that  Isaiah 53 must be fulfilled literally; they did not see that the sacrifices of the law were all meant to point them to the death of the true Lamb of God. They thought of nothing but the second glorious coming of Messiah, which is yet to take place at the end of the world. 

J. C. Ryle

In the Hebrew for "borne," or took, there is probably the double notion, He took on Himself vicariously (so Isa 53:56812), and so He took away; His perfect humanity whereby He was bodily afflicted for us, and in all our afflictions (Isa 63:9Heb 4:15) was the ground on which He cured the sick; […] Messiah's time of darkness was temporary (Mt 27:45), answering to the bruising of His heel; Satan's is to be eternal, answering to the bruising of his head (compare Isa 50:10).

—Jamieson, Faust, and Brown

Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light,
and usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with affright,
but hear the angel's warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
our confidence and joy shall be;
the pow'r of Satan breaking,
our peace eternal making.

Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light,
to herald our salvation;
He stoops to earth–the God of might,
our hope and expectation.
He comes in human flesh to dwell,
our God with us, Immanuel;
the night of darkness ending,
our fallen race befriending.

Johann von Rist, “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light”

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Don’t Let Suffering Silence Your Prayers

I called the nurse into the hospital room, “I think I felt her kick. Can we check?”

A shadow passed over her face. Not many minutes prior, the doctor had told me, my husband, and the nurses that my yet-to-be-born, 42-week daughter had no heartbeat.

The nurse gave me the monitor and asked if I wanted to use it. She quietly, kindly excused herself from the room. But I think her face held some pity. Perhaps she thought I was having trouble accepting reality. But I knew my God could undoubtedly answer my prayer for renewed earthly life for my daughter.

Soon, circling my stomach, I understood that my prayer had not been answered with a “yes.” As time went on, that “yes” seemed less and less likely. 

 Home from the hospital daughter-less, I was no longer sure how to pray for new requests. I had not presumed that God owed me a “yes,” and I was not angry at him. But because that particular request had felt urgent and precious, I suddenly felt I had little I wanted to ask of him. I was silenced.

Five years have passed since the fresh grief of losing our daughter, but I was recently impressed by a biblical figure who endures terrible hardship with a far different response to prayer in the midst of his pain—Nehemiah.

God’s people had been justly exiled from their homeland, with only some surviving (Neh. 1:2). But a remnant returns to the homeland, first led by Zerubbabel and second by Ezra to relearn the law of God and to rebuild. 

The book of Ezra records the generous faithfulness of God to allow this return and rebuild:  

Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery,but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. (Ezra 9:9)

With a personal interest in this rebuild for his fellow people and for the sake of God’s name, Nehemiah, an honored cupbearer in Persia to the king, eagerly inquires about the Judean remnant. But unfortunately, he receives news that the walls around the city are broken and destroyed, for progress has been halted (Ezra 4:12, 17-23). Rebuilding efforts are dampened, leaving the remnant without the protection of walls. They receive a “not right now” answer from God that they don’t expect. 

As one who is acquainted with suffering, I wonder if the people felt a measure of finality in this development—God has said “no,” so what more should we pray? Perhaps the remnant thought: I have accepted a “no” from God on this exceedingly dear request. I have accepted it and am even ready to bear another “no.” So, for what else should I pray? This is how I felt concerning my daughter. 

Nehemiah understands what feeling sorrow upon sorrow is like. Upon hearing of the remnant: “I sat down and wept and mourned for days” (Neh. 1:4a). Yet, what directly follows from Nehemiah’s mourning is an invitation for God’s people who are suffering to still see purpose in prayer. Nehemiah offers exemplary words to the Lord amidst his tears (Neh. 1:5-11). He remembers God’s character and covenant with a clear belief that the Word of God unalterably stands. Because of this, he knows that he has a legitimate basis for coming before God. 

In tears and after hearing of opposition, he is remarkably able to pray, “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant” (1:6a). Instead of his suffering stalling him from prayer, he expectantly requests God’s “ear” and “eyes.” One commentator notes, “The superficially curious juxtapositioning of ‘eyes’ and ‘hearing’ provides a fully intelligible metaphor.”[1] With earnestness, Nehemiah requests God’s attuned attention. I admire Nehemiah’s fervor to seek the face of God after his homeland and many of his fellow people had been destroyed, after rebuilding efforts had been stilted, and more—after the fame of his God might have seemed to be discounted among the nations due to the exile. He had faith in God’s Word. And therefore, he trusted that a “not right now” was different than a “never”—and he knew that a “not right now” was only a reason to keep praying.

While my daughter will never have more breath in this life, Nehemiah was granted success for further rebuilding efforts. Though our requests and results are not parallel in that sense, I think about the grander principle of the reputation of the Lord in both. God would allow Nehemiah to rebuild the walls and further pursue restoration after exile for the sake of His covenant name and faithfulness. And God did demonstrate the power of His name through His presence and the strength—spiritual and otherwise—He gave me even in the early hours of birthing a still child. After the sorrowful “no” I received to prayer and after likely seeming illogical to the hospital’s medical staff in my knowledge of God’s capabilities, God was not done.

And He is not done with us who believe. His name is great—all will see it, and we are right to have faith in the silencing moments. We are right to keep praying. That is the hope intrinsic to Nehemiah’s story. And that is the hope intrinsicto the story of all believers. Devastating circumstances and prayers that are met with “no” or “not right now” may introduce the darkest times of life, but even these cannot thwart the holy arc of God’s glorious plans that reign above this earthly existence. 

Soon, God would help me pray again. I would find words before Him. I started with a sentence from the apostle Paul, turning it into a prayer for tear-filled days. May what has happened to me actually serve to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12). Reminiscent of Nehemiah’s prevailing concern for God’s name and reputation (Neh. 1:9, 11), this kind of prayer can well pour from the suffering soul. For when our anticipated trajectory for life crashes, we know God’s forever-plan still stands. And as long as God’s plan is unfolding, we will have a reason to fold our hands and say, “hear the prayer of your servant” (Neh. 1:6).

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The Saddest Fulfillment of Prophecy, Isa. 53:3 | Out of Tomes

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

— ISAIAH 53:3 ESV

Introduction

Christ may not have been the Savior many of the Jewish people were expecting. A. W. Pink wrote, “For more than fifteen centuries the Coming of the Messiah had been the one great national Hope of Israel. From the cradle the sons of Abraham were taught to pray and long for His advent. The eagerness with which they awaited the appearing of the Star of Jacob is absolutely without parallel in the history of any other nation. How then can we account for the fact that when He did come He was despised and rejected?” Christ did not come in the desired glory of kingship—this is reserved for His second coming. He was glorified after His display of ultimate servanthood.

Isaiah foretold that the Lord would come humbly to experience sorrow, and this has been called the saddest fulfillment of prophecy. Do you not mourn too when reading about the coming of the precious Lord to suffer? One way to think about Christmas is to dwell upon what the Lord was willing to undertake for His people—and allow those thoughts to lead to worship.

Because of how He first came—to suffer—He can be praised as our humble Savior, in addition to our mighty King. J. C. Ryle wrote: “It is impossible to conceive a Saviour more suited to the wants of man’s heart than our Lord Jesus Christ—suited not only by His power, but by His sympathy—suited not only by His divinity, but by His humanity.” For us He came as a servant—if not for removal of all of this earth’s present afflictions in a grand display of kingship, then certainly for all of what He has deemed our dearest wants and needs. He came in order to save us from ourselves and then out of this world.

Quotations

If you know what it is to apply to the Lord Jesus for spiritual comfort in earthly troubles, you should well remember the days of His flesh, and His human nature.

You are applying to One who knows your feelings by experience, and has drunk deep of the bitter cup, for He was “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. liii. 3.) Jesus knows the heart of a man—the bodily pains of a man—the difficulties of a man, for he was a Man Himself, and had flesh and blood upon earth. He sat wearied by the well at Sychar. He wept over the grave of Lazarus at Bethany. He sweat great drops of blood at Gethsemane. He groaned with anguish at Calvary.

He is no stranger to your sensations. He is acquainted with everything that belongs to human nature, sin only excepted.

(a) Are you poor and needy? So also was Jesus. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had not where to lay His head. He dwelt in a despised city. Men used to say, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John i. 46.) He was esteemed a carpenter’s son. He preached in a borrowed boat, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed ass, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.

(b) Are you alone in the world, and neglected by those who ought to love you? So also was Jesus. He came unto His own, and they received Him not. He came to be a Messiah to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and they rejected Him. The princes of this world would not acknowledge Him. The few that followed Him were publicans and fishermen. And even these at the last forsook Him, and were scattered every man to his own place.

(c) Are you misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered, and persecuted? So also was Jesus. He was called a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans, a Samaritan, a madman, and a devil. His character was belied. False charges were laid against Him. An unjust sentence was passed upon Him, and, though innocent, He was condemned as a malefactor, and as such died on the cross.

(d) Does Satan tempt you, and offer horrid suggestions to your mind? So also did he tempt Jesus. He bade Him to distrust God’s fatherly providence. “Command these stones to be made bread.” He proposed to Him to tempt God by exposing Himself to unnecessary danger. “Cast Thyself down” from the pinnacle of the temple. He suggested to Him to obtain the kingdoms of the world for His own, by one little act of submission to himself. “All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” (Matt. iv. 1-10.)

(e) Do you ever feel great agony and conflict of mind? Do you feel in darkness as if God had left you? So did Jesus. Who can tell the extent of the sufferings of mind He went through in the garden? Who can measure the depth of His soul’s pain when He cried, “My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matt. xxvii. 46.)

It is impossible to conceive a Saviour more suited to the wants of man’s heart than our Lord Jesus Christ—suited not only by His power, but by His sympathy—suited not only by His divinity, but by His humanity. Labour, I beseech you, to get firmly impressed on your mind that Christ, the refuge of souls, is Man as well as God. Honour Him as King of kings, and Lord of lords. But while you do this, never forget that He had a body and was a Man. Grasp this truth and never let it go. The unhappy Socinian errs fearfully when he says that Christ was only Man, and not God. But let not the rebound from that error make you forget that while Christ was very God He was also very Man.

Listen not for a moment to the wretched argument of the Roman Catholic when he tells you that the Virgin Mary and the saints are more sympathizing than Christ. Answer him that such an argument springs from ignorance of the Scriptures and of Christ’s true nature. Answer him, that you have not so learned Christ as to regard Him only as an austere Judge and a being to be feared. Answer him, that the four Gospels have taught you to regard Him as the most loving and sympathizing of friends, as well as the mightiest and most powerful of Saviours. Answer him, that you want no comfort from saints and angels, from the Virgin Mary or from Gabriel, so long as you can repose your weary soul on THE MAN CHRIST JESUS.

J. C. Ryle

Who has believed thy word,
Or thy salvation known?
Reveal thine arm, Almighty Lord,
And glorify thy Son.

The Jews esteemed him here
Too mean for their belief;
Sorrows his chief acquaintance were,
And his companion, grief.

They turned their eyes away,
And treated him with scorn;
But 'twas their grief upon him lay,
Their sorrows he has borne.

'Twas for the stubborn Jews,
And Gentiles then unknown,
The God of justice pleased to bruise
His best-beloved Son.

"But I'll prolong his days,
And make his kingdom stand;
My pleasure," saith the God of grace,
"Shall prosper in his hand."

["His joyful soul shall see
The purchase of his pain
And by his knowledge justify
The guilty sons of men.]

["Ten thousand captive slaves,
Released from death and sin,
Shall quit their prisons and their graves
And own his power divine.]

["Heav'n shall advance my Son
To joys that earth denied;
Who saw the follies men had done,
And bore their sins, and died."]

Isaac Watts, The Humility and Exaltation of Christ”

For more than fifteen centuries the Coming of the Messiah had been the one great national Hope of Israel. From the cradle the sons of Abraham were taught to pray and long for His advent. The eagerness with which they awaited the appearing of the Star of Jacob is absolutely without parallel in the history of any other nation. How then can we account for the fact that when He did come He was despised and rejected? How can we explain the fact that side by side with the intense longing for the manifestation of their King, one of their own prophets foretold that when He did appear men would hide their faces from Him and esteem Him not? Finally, what explanation have we to offer for the fact that such things were predicted centuries before He came to this earth and that they were literally fulfilled to the very letter? As another has said, “No prediction could have seemed more improbable, and yet none ever received a sadder and more complete fulfillment.”

A. W. Pink

They expected a pompous Messiah, one that should come with state and glory, becoming the king of Israel. But when they saw him in the form of a servant, coming in poverty, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, they utterly rejected him: “We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not,” Isa. 53: 3. Nor is it any great wonder these should be scandalised at his poverty when the disciples themselves had such carnal apprehensions of his kingdom, Mark 10: 37, 38.

John Flavel

Christ came down from heaven (John 3:13), but the Anti-christ comes up out of the Bottomless Pit (Rev. 11:7). Christ came in Another’s name (John 5:43), but the Anti-christ will come in his own name (John 5:43). Christ came to do the Father’s will (John 6:38), but the Anti-christ will do his own will (Dan. 11:36). Christ wrought in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14), but the Anti-christ will be energized by Satan (Rev. 13:4). Christ submitted Himself to God (John 5:30), but the Anti-christ will defy God (2 Thess. 2:4). Christ “humbled” Himself (Phil. 2:8), but the Anti-christ will “exalt” himself (Dan. 11:36). Christ honored the God of His fathers (Luke 4:16), but the Anti-christ will refuse to do so (Dan. 11:37). Christ cleansed the Temple (John 2:14–16), but the Anti-christ will defile the temple (Matt. 24:15). Christ ministered to the needy (Luke 4:18), but the Anti-christ will refuse to do so (Zech. 11:16). Christ was rejected of men (Is. 53:3), but the Anti-christ will be accepted by all the world (Rev. 13:4). Christ “leadeth” His flock (John 10:3), but the Anti-christ will “leave” his flock (Zech. 11:17). Christ was slain for the people (John 11:51), but the Anti-christ will slay the people (Dan. 11:44). Christ glorified God (John 17:4), but the Anti-christ will blaspheme God (Rev. 13:6). Christ was received up into Heaven (Luke 24:51), but the Anti-christ goes down into Hell (Rev. 19:20).

A. W. Pink

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Growth in Dry Ground, Isa. 53:2 | Out of Tomes

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

— ISAIAH 53:2 ESV

Introduction

For us, Christmastime is a season of bright hope—but for Christ, it was the beginning of His “errand of suffering,” as Jonathan Edwards wrote. Because the Lord was willing to be born to “dry ground” (Isa. 53:2)—to a place that added nothing to Him—believers’ lives can be filled with joyous expectation of all light. Starting this week, I am dwelling in Isaiah 53:2-4 through a series of three Out of Tomes posts. These posts are filled with rich quotations from Christian classics for the purpose of worshiping the Lord, born to die, whose suffering started even in His infancy. For not only was He born in a stable, He was also the subject of an assassination plot: “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Matthew 2:13). This is how Jesus began His earth days—indicative of what was to come.

Quotations

A root which springs up in a fat and fertile field owes very much to the soil in which it grows. We do not wonder that some plants thrive abundantly, for the earth in which they are planted is peculiarly congenial to their growth. But if we see a root or a tree luxuriating upon a flinty rock, or in the midst of arid sand, we are astonished and admire the handiwork of God. Our Savior is a root that derives nothing from the soil in which it grows, but puts everything into the soil. Christ does not live because of His surroundings, but He makes those to live who are around Him—and Christianity in this world derives nothing from the world except that which alloys and injures it, but it imparts every blessing to the place where it comes.

Note, then, this Truth of God—that Christ is always "a root out of a dry ground"—He derives nothing from without, but is self-contained and self-sustained in all the strength and excellence which He displays. Let us dwell on that Truth.

[…]

Poor, helpless, hopeless, stripped, and emptied one, you need not look for, nor desire anything in yourself to prepare you for Jesus! He delights to come into empty hearts to fill them with His love—into cold hearts to warm them with His sacred flame—and into dead hearts to give them life. Now, the same thought which may thus comfort the seeker, and I pray it may, ought also to encourage any Christian who has been making discoveries of his own barrenness.

Charles Spurgeon

He hath no form nor comeliness. This must be understood to relate not merely to the person of Christ, who was despised by the world, and was at length condemned to a disgraceful death; but to his whole kingdom, which in the eyes of men had no beauty, no comeliness, no splendor, which, in short, had nothing that could direct or captivate the hearts of men to it by its outward show. Although Christ arose from the dead, yet the Jews always regarded him as a person who had been crucified and disgraced, in consequence of which they haughtily disdained him.

—John Calvin

…it is said, “He shall grow up as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him,” Isa. liii. 2. Can we see no goodness, no excellency in Christ, in the grace of Christ, in his ways, in his people, why he should be desired? Believers can, 1 Cor. ii. 7–10. The Spirit of God discovers to them the excellent things of Christ, whereby they find them to be good; whereas to strangers from Christ they seem absurd and foolish things, and no way to be desired. Men of carnal wisdom, that have attained to the highest pitch of reason and ability in the world, they can see neither form nor comeliness in Christ, or the things of Christ; but when God opens the things of Christ by the Spirit, then they see that there is a goodness and an excellency in them.

John Owen

“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Thus, as Christ’s principal errand into the world was suffering, so, agreeably to that errand, he came with such a nature and in such circumstances, as most made way for his suffering; so his whole life was filled up with suffering, he began to suffer in his infancy, but his suffering increased the more he drew near to the close of his life. His suffering after his public ministry began, was probably much greater than before; and the latter part of the time of his public ministry seems to have been distinguished by suffering. The longer Christ lived in the world, the more men saw and heard of him, the more they hated him. His enemies were more and more enraged by the continuance of the opposition that he made to their lusts; and the devil having been often baffled by him, grew more and more enraged, and strengthened the battle more and more against him: so that the cloud over Christ’s head grew darker and darker, as long as he lived in the world, till it was in its greatest blackness when he hung upon the cross and cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Before this, it was exceedingly dark, in the time of his agony in the garden; of which we have an account in the words now read; and which I propose to make the subject of my present discourse. The word agony properly signifies an earnest strife, such as is witnessed in wrestling, running, or fighting. And therefore in Luke xiii. 24. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able;” the word in the original, translated strive, is Greek. “Agonize, to enter in at the strait gate.” The word is especially used for that sort of strife, which in those days was exhibited in the Olympic games, in which men strove for the mastery in running, wrestling, and other such kinds of exercises; and a prize was set up that was bestowed on the conqueror. Those, who thus contended, were, in the language then in use, said to agonize. Thus the apostle in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, a city of Greece, where such games were annually exhibited, says in allusion to the strivings of the combatants, “And every man that striveth for the mastery,” in the original, every one that agonizeth, “is temperate in all things.” The place where those games were held, was called Greek, or the place of agony; and the word is particularly used in Scripture for that striving in earnest prayer wherein persons wrestle with God: they are said to agonize, or to be in agony, in prayer. So the word is used Rom. xv. 30. “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me:” in the original Greekthat ye agonize together with me. So Coloss. iv. 12.“Always labouring fervently for you in prayer, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God:” in the original Greek, agonizing for you. So that when it is said in the text that Christ was in an agony, the meaning is, that his soul was in a great and earnest strife and conflict.

Jonathan Edwards

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70 Prompts for Giving Thanks to God

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” — Psalm 107:1-3

God, you have:

1.    given me a way to rejoice at all times (Phil. 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:10).

2.    comforted me in all of my sorrows (1 Cor. 1:4).

3.    not treated me as I deserve (Ps. 103:10).

4.    given me all of the good gifts that I enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17; Jas. 1:17).

5.    been the perfect peace of my soul, though I still sorrowfully sin (Rom. 5:1).

6.    not counted my sins against me (2 Cor. 5:19).

7.    suffered and died for my sins (1 Pet. 3:18).

8.    cleansed me by your blood (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:22; Heb. 13:12). 

9.    satisfied the wrath of God on my account (Rom. 5:9).

10.  not destined me for wrath, but for salvation (1 Thess. 5:9-10).

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MainLianna Davis