Posts tagged Reflection
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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A Well Lived Life

When the sun turned down for the day and golden light peaked through the edges of my living room blinds throwing glistening shadows onto dim walls, my eyes assumed the same golden gleam with thoughts of recent hours. The sun grew over walls and furniture—and all the swells of the day—for the hour or so of light’s gold: the dining room table where a candle earlier sped and smoked, the distant corner of the kitchen where orange slices were held and bites were taken alongside grins and chats, and the stairs that withheld against pounded motions of every happening, whether languid and clomping or running late with clipping.

My lips met spiced tea and my mind swelled over those waves of the day, freeing the memories that active minutes compress—enumerating the menagerie of surges and stages. Finally, the thought came as the sun yielded to the downward pull and the last spark was gone before night’s scroll was unrolled—Was this one well lived?

The last light fell, and I had all appreciation for that unique sunset slice of the day—it was like the lightning that flares when a person of mystery speaks revealingly and the rarity only adds to gratitude and wonder, leaving a trace of want for when it will happen again. So, a sunset does not grace the every minute, and with the last light, today’s provoked, Can you be content to mirror many other days after today’s strains?

Now, if one can enter near, a late octo- or nonagenarian might musingly review not a day of life for Christ, but a life. The gray hair of the godly, that crown of splendor and honor (Prov. 16:13), affords its own glow for watching eyes—perhaps the brightest and fiercest sparks of belief and holy desire. Chair close, one hears of minds that have worked and worked, and of hearts’ resolve, and eternity’s splendor insight from earliest days. One might hear of children and family, and friendships and ministry while witnessing the effects of prayer’s secret dependency. One will certainly hear of Christ, as the godly gray are naturally nearest, anticipatorily, to see His face in all of glory’s bright.

In these, my elders, I’ve seen steps of resolve, commitment to the path that is straight. Steps that haven’t veered back and away or circled, as with a loose, stray connection—but have traveled steadily, with a resolve that started from the dedication of earliest teenage days (Ecclesiastes 12:1). I’ve heard of consistency in studying, of adeptness with mastering one day’s portion of Scripture at a time to accumulate wealth, a considerable responsibility—without having been shirked or shunned, but received as weighty and worthy duty (Prov. 1:7, 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:15). I’ve noticed the freedom and joy, and sole honor for Christ, in the gray-haired whose finances have long reflected the weight of eternity and Scripture’s guiding hand, for whom money has not directed decisions of value, for the path to heaven is highest (Matt. 6:19, 23).

Pure sparks have graced my sight of love for family, care for husbands and wives while in view of a marriage-honoring God (Heb. 13:4), and for the ministry that began in one’s home—how instruction and love of children has not been seen as secondary but as prized with piles of devoted time (Deut. 6:5-9). With the family of God, I’ve seen the peace of relationships that are deemed successes if giving has been sacrificial—where mutuality has been warmly welcomed, but personal fulfillment has not been given the status of being the aim or goal (Phil. 2:3). I have beheld how the deposit of truth has been regarded—the fountain for unity (2 Tim. 1:14; Rom. 16:17-20) and how speaking its core message of the King has served as compassion for those in the dark (Rom. 10:14).

Gazed fixed, I have gleaned themes of wisdom, that when tutors have been sought for the school of saintly life, selectivity and standards have been welcomed by all. For good mentors have been careful to bow and exegete well the holy Word—pointing to those who have been advanced in maturity and dedication—with thoughtfulness to approve by Scripture every influence, faithfully, no matter the cost (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 1:9-10). Now, when I hunt for their lives of prayer, I scarcely collect in my sight all that’s certainly there—for they are faithful to the Lord’s instruction, to maintain reverent secrecy (Matt. 6:5-6). Yet, in their lives’ humility and given trust, evidence abounds of those who have long ago settled that they can do nothing, would never want to do anything, apart from Him (John 15:5; Phil. 4:11-13).

I’ve traced my hand over a life’s day to follow the sparkling-sun-movement, a sun still graciously lasting by God’s hand to have come this evening after visiting lives of all ages. And as golden hours will double and triple and more in my experience, Lord willing, tomorrow and the next day again, I will have less and less propensity for youthful doubtfulness in the truth that my days are short—just as He has said (Jas. 4:14). My home will travel through sunset again; while I sip that tea and steep in the swells, the lightning spark of want noted in my day-end light—my question—is now seated in Scripture’s witness to imitate those whose whole lives have already been well lived for Him (Heb. 13:7; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Cor. 4:16).

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Cheerios, Transience, Sticky Fingers, and Righteousness

My fingers run over familiar lines in my home. Edges of tables. The soft back of the sofa where we have played and sat and read. I have a minute to think. The walls are colored with pieces of our lives like finger-paintings or crayon drawings. We’ll take them down soon, temporary things. We’re moving—not across the country or anything, but somewhere new. We’ll leave behind our nail holes. They’ll be filled. Someone else will start over with it all.

My fingers move to the binding of a book I am reading. But some of the pages are stuck together. Babies are messy; nothing is safe from them. I look down. She’s reading her own book now, my baby who I am so grateful for in everything. She’s big and solidly walks on her own. She has words to tell me what is on her mind and cognition to understand so much of what is on mine. It won’t be long before she’s in her own home, coloring the walls with her own crayons, sitting still and hoping to understand time for herself—or so I’m told. She’ll ache too, just like I have. And it will be over more than not being allowed to put sticky fingers into books—books, which the press builds and spews forward. 

I’m hardly, or not at all, reading enough to get caught up—but that’s not as important I guess. Blogs are daily and it’s hard to make that the conversation when I’m still processing something from last week or last month. It’s fast; it’s all too fast for me. Even moving to a new home is too fast, too easy. I am looking to reach the ground somehow so that when I move it’s like my feet are dragging in concrete because I had somewhere to stay. But in reality, I suppose I could do it again (but I hope I don’t).

I saw an edited picture the other day, a double exposure making a child’s head look like it was filled with Cheerios. And I sure could cut-back more on my baby’s Cheerios—I laughed at it, I think out loud. But I wonder what exactly we’re doing online sharing our hearts and our good messages. Part of it is so very good but part makes me want to sign off forever to de-clutter my brain of the many, many pieces of little Cheerios that I no longer digest. I must be doing something wrong. I sort of admire the people who are, mostly, offline. But then I think of the people I have met online and I am grateful. Still, if the whole of the web went away I have more than enough and so much joy and life. I have more than I could ask for.

All these things in my home, crayons and the sofa and a couple of tables that serve us well, they’ll be in motion soon—in the same type of motion as those who have moved before me, but many for far different reasons and with more urgency. The Israelites out of Egypt. The Israelites out of the promised land. The promise stated in the earliest generations of human history might have been fulfilled then (God is faithful), except they stopped moving toward God and so He said when it was enough, far enough. I’ve got sticky-finger “problems.” God, the Maker and Ruler of all, has children who hate Him. No comparison. But He is still faithful to Himself, and so, to us. He will fulfill each promise.

Part of me wants to combat the culture in my own little way by staying grounded and by never moving and by never do anything that is fast. Another part says that this isn’t my home anyway; it isn’t supposed to feel that easy, or as good as I want it to feel. Part of me remembers the vanity of Ecclesiastes and part of me to enjoy gifts from God—also in Ecclesiastes—but I also know to wait for the end of that book too to see that what matters is to fear and obey God through it all.

This is not as though authenticity and art and moments don’t matter; I believe they do. But in them—or, the goal of them—everything that is not righteous will not endure, and hopefully, we don't want it to. Is that my main thing here, in all of this? Because if not, I had better trade crayons for markers or lay off every weight—everything that’s too rapid. It’s easier to disengage altogether in the places we could engage well. I know that too. But every kind of medium has a different kind of beat—social media, blogs, and endless books too. Every medium, itself, communicates something. I hear the cautionary and the explorers each in my mind with their warnings and their passions respectively.

But 10 years ago, I was still deciding if I should join Facebook and—did we really think this thing through? I am still pointing my arms in different directions on here—is this right, is this it? But I don’t think I am supposed to feel blind anymore. After all, I like solidity and conclusions, and I like that the Bible is absolute in authority. Pausing, I am so grateful; we owe more to ourselves than the lie of total transience—except, of course, we are transient. I think you know what I mean. God is not transient and we are His.

Righteousness, moderate choices with limited time, identifying weights well to lay them off, seeing people in person, and, just, running my fingers over the pages of the Bible that tells me what to think from the God who knows me—these are things I keep coming back to in the quick of this all. Having fewer Cheerios, engaging more with the tangible stickiness that I can run my hands over in this home, in the physical places around, and in this heart, and do my part to clean it, and nail in—hard—the righteousness that lasts. 

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My Testimony

How I came to have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a story of generations. A single day brought with it new life in me for eternity. Yet, details of how that came to be started many years earlier.

As teens, my maternal grandmother’s parents came from the “old country,” Finland in the case of my great-grandma Vendla and in the case of my great grandfather, Gustov, Sweden. They grew to become farmers, and I have memories of visiting their farmland in Stillman Valley, Illinois for a family reunion. There was some clear country and clean rooflines on homes with pristine white trim, and everything else farmhouses should be. I went home that day desiring one day to live on a farm for the view and the sense of simplicity that lingered.

Gustov and Vendla met in America after becoming naturalized citizens. When they came to America they were already Christians. They married while young and started their family. Their eighth child, Rich, was killed in a car accident when he was sixteen. I can remember my grandmother telling me that story when I was a child, probably while making a pie or bread together in the kitchen or while playing a game, like Monopoly, together at the gathering table in their northern Wisconsin home. I thought about him, gone seemingly “too soon,” who would be among the ranks of family members. He went from seen and known to only spoken of. Gustov and Vendla are with him now; they were Christians until the days they died.

My grandmother, Gertrude, became a Christian on the farm. She watched the example of her parents whose faith passed to her while listening to a Christian children’s radio program at the age of seven or eight. The host asked how many listening children wanted to become Christians. She did and prayed with them. One simply sows and sows while another reaps.

My maternal grandfather also became a Christian through his parents. His parents became Christians not as children, but as adults when a protégé of Paul Rader—a 20th century evangelist and the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago—planted a church in Wisconsin. This man, Pastor Sproule, invited my great-grandparents, Selma and Roy, to a church gathering when the church was still meeting in homes. The church, called Gospel Tabernacle, was in Baraboo, Wisconsin on the north side of town by the river, right next to the Ringling Bros. Circus home.

The year was 1932, during the time of the Great Depression. The future of the circus was pending, as one of the Ringling brothers could no longer make payment on his debts. But Gospel Tabernacle grew. In the home, Selma took the lead spiritually. Because of both parents, but especially Selma, my grandfather, David, became a Christian in 1932 at age eight. He and his mother prayed together every night, and the night he became a Christian was one of them. His debts of sin were paid in full.

My grandparents married in 1944 and in 1952 gave birth to their only daughter, Sheryl, my mother. When she was ten or eleven, the family returned from the mission field in Japan. My grandfather spoke at a camp that summer. A children’s camp paralleled it. There, during one of the camp talks, my mom became a Christian. Although, she would say that she took her faith more seriously when she was fourteen in 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated. As a fourteen-year-old, the grave news made her sense that life is fleeting and, in the end, there is no one to whom a person can turn but the Lord.

Years later in 1977, she and my dad, Martin, met on Sunday morning at what is now called Village Church of Lincolnshire near Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where my dad was pursuing his Master of Divinity. My dad, the initial person in his family to become a Christian, was first introduced to true Christianity the summer after his sophomore year in high school. My dad had been confirmed at a Methodist church years earlier, but learned through the confirmation classes virtually nothing about the Lord or Scripture—only about doing good works, like feeding the poor. One of his best friends, a fellow football player named Ron, invitation him to a Youth for Christ camp. Ron asked him to come, enjoy, and added, “You could use a little religion.” From the camp speaker, an invitation was made on the last day to come forward and receive Christ. My dad prayed to received the Lord with Jay Kesler, a leader who went on to become the President of Youth for Christ. His life was changed, as were the lives of family members around him who noted the differences.

Mine is an inherited faith, as with all who believe. God sovereignly wove a history of people and circumstances together to call my great-grandparents to His name, my grandparents to His name, and my parents to His name. Now I now bear His name as a Christian. Think of it—God has powerfully woven a history of people and circumstances together to call many to faith in Him. Praise be to God!

Being raised in a Christian home and in the church as a child, I had been given consistent context about the truths of the Person of Jesus Christ, heaven, hell, sin, and the gift of salvation from my parents and Sunday School teachers. My parents, people faithful to the Lord in word and conduct, were sincere in their expressions of belief and were clear about right and wrong. I knew when I was wrong, I knew what sin meant, and I knew that to trust Jesus was to leave sin, death, and eternity without Him behind in order to gain Him forever. That was what I dearly wanted—to have Jesus Christ forever.

My dad prayed with me every night as a child. One of those nights in particular, at around the age of five, I prayed and felt I had to tell someone what had happened to me; I felt alive. I went out into the hall as my dad was leaving and told him that I prayed to know the Lord Jesus. I felt like a completely new person; I knew that I understood all of life differently that day. I do not have many memories from this age, as one could guess. But I have this one. I had been born again into a living hope, a hope that providentially passes through the cumulative testimony of generations to give more and more people who are called to His name knowledge of this great salvation. “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21).

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A Good Relationship with the Future

On moving day, I mostly reclined, having been barred from packing heavy items, lifting boxes or furniture, and reaching to hang pictures or put items in tall cabinets. This was a benefit of making the move late in the third trimester of pregnancy. Watching, I thought to myself, This is it—this is my future. 

But those words were starting to have less and less of their desired effect on me, and I knew it.

After all, we had lived in three different homes within two years, and I had said the same thing to myself about each one. From my sitting perch, I was directing the placement of pieces of furniture, rugs, plates, and pictures. I could direct the future as well as my very pregnant self could have, say, lifted the piano into the foyer. But that did not keep me from making claims on permanency, despite every move doing more to dampen my attempts at accomplishing it.

I had left behind visions for a lasting home. I could not think too much about those past homes, with their failed hopes of staying, without cringing. The start of a new one had me wondering if its claims toward permanency would eventually fade, too.

Fearfully Grasping an Uncertain Future

Daniel in the Bible knew something about a lack of permanency after being exiled from his home country at a fairly young age, when it was conquered by the king of Babylon. Daniel’s relationship with the future was on display when the king, Nebuchadnezzar, wanted the “wise men” of Babylon to interpret a dream that was especially troubling to him (Daniel 2:1-16).

This was a standard request in that day, especially for a culture that believed their gods spoke through dreams.1But this young king had a unique request: that these men first tell him, supernaturally, the dream itself. If they could not speak of this secret knowledge, he would kill them all. By “kill them all,” he did not mean only those who had been given an opportunity to speak with him—he meant allthe wise men of Babylon. This included God’s faithful servant, Daniel.

Of course, the men could not do as the king requested, failing to interpret his dream. Daniel was not included in this initial group.

The young king may have desired to prove himself tough enough for the job, or to prove his men loyal. Yet, he was likely troubled because he feared for his uncertain future, as implied in his dream. In Nebuchadnezzar’s worldview, a troubling dream meant fearing for his security. He took this as reason to set aside all prudence with the sole purpose of understanding its meaning. To him, his health, wealth, and kingdom—all that secured his future—was subject to the untethered whims and impulses of the gods.

So, right as the blood was about to be shed and the guards made their way to Daniel, he asked a question to understand:

Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. He declared to Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. (Daniel 2:14)

Nebuchadnezzar serves as a good foil for Daniel. After all, Daniel was confronted with his own dire circumstance because of the king. What did Daniel do when the guards came to him with the order to kill? He asked a question. Then, he made a request for time.

Because of his careful efforts, he was given the opportunity to demonstrate that his God had control over all things—past, present, and future. The first actions he took when facing his impending death were deliberate, calm, prudent, and discerning. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, his priority was not to do whatever was necessary to secure the status of his future in this world. He took the matter carefully into account, including his standing with the king that allowed him to make the request for time, along with the king’s unwieldy temper that required his calm planning. Daniel faithfully based his actions upon those calculations. When he was about to be killed, he demonstrated a good relationship with his future—whatever his future on earth might be.

Prudently Evaluating a God-Ordained Future

Sitting in my home months after our move, and looking around at the furniture and hangings on the wall, I have the impression of what I want. We are settled into every corner of this place. My nine-month-old baby is playing with her things, which means picking up each toy for a brief examination and then tossing it behind her—one toy after the other. That is the message I have had for my things; they have all been tossed around over the past months, moved in and out, in and out. Perhaps this is actually a message they tell about my claims on staying. Either way, they speak far more to me about uncertainty than about being settled.

Perhaps this was one benefit for Daniel of having been exiled: not believing his permanency to be dependent upon his location. I want a good relationship with my future, too—to resemble Daniel’s calm in uncertainty, as opposed to Nebuchadnezzar’s recklessness. Daniel knew both that the future was to be wisely evaluated and, simultaneously, that it was not his to determine.

Daniel’s perspective about the future allowed him to use prudence in three ways:

  • Daniel used prudence to plan:“The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving” (Proverbs 14:8).

  • Daniel used prudence in being cautious:“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

  • Daniel used prudence to weigh and discern:“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

Daniel, however, could only be planning, cautious, and discerning because of the God of providence. Of any foil in this story, the gods of Nebuchadnezzar best juxtapose the one true God. These non-existent gods could not reveal Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, nor did they inspire in Nebuchadnezzar any calm or care. But the one true God is sovereign and all-knowing, inspiring prudence and praise. When God reveals the dream, Daniel worships:

Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,

to whom belong wisdom and might…

…he reveals deep and hidden things;

he knows what is in the darkness,

and the light dwells with him.

To you, O God of my fathers,

I give thanks and praise,

for you have given me wisdom and might,

and have now made known to me what we asked of you,

for you have made known to us the king’s matter. (Daniel 2:20, 22-23)

Our furniture, rugs, plates, and pictures fit so well in this home, but the question of staying is for God alone to answer. Were I to answer it, I would be like the imprudent Nebuchadnezzar, looking to the gods on their perches for understanding. I would be the false gods, too, reacting to my future through untethered whims and impulses.

Rather, Daniel’s God is our God. He has worked all things together for our salvation by providentially arranging the workings of the world to accomplish it:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23)

Furthermore, he has providentially called us to himself for all eternity:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

If the transience of life feels counter to the solid circumstances you desire, remember that the gospel secures an eternal future with all permanency and staying-power. This permanency is ours as solidly as Christ defeated sin and death; ours as surely as he is in the heavenly places now; and ours as permanently as Christ’s victory is everlasting. Fittingly, “prudence” is an alteration of the word “providence.” For the praiseworthy providence of God demonstrated in the gospel is the prudent person’s most important calculation of all.

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