On Forgiveness

Forgiveness may be at once both the most necessary of responses to the grace that God has bestowed upon us and the most misunderstood (and, consequently, the most neglected). I hesitate in even attempting to address the wonderful and mysterious world of forgiveness in such a short article because it is both very simple and very complex.

For example, the fact that Jesus commanded us to forgive notwithstanding, it is when we spend ourselves in this very activity that we most resemble our Father in heaven as well as find ourselves being groomed for full and unfettered fellowship with Him.

“Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. …Forgive your brother from your heart…. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 18:21-22, 35b; Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

Frankly, Jesus Himself is the embodiment of forgiveness – literally! He not only lived forgiveness in the daily wear and tear of life, He demonstrated it perfectly in interceding for His haters and persecutors while dying at their hands.

“When He (Jesus) was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him Who judges justly (His Heavenly Father)” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV).

It is not an illogical assumption then to move on from His forgiveness for those who were physically involved in His suffering and crucifixion to the realization that we, too, are culpable (guilty) of His death because it was our sin (mine as well as yours) for which He laid down His sinless life as payment (restitution) to God the Father for the breaking of His holy Law. And if He, sinless and guileless, could pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV), then we can be expected to employ that same attitude towards others.


When we forgive we resemble our Heavenly Father, but are also cultivating a great joy in our future.

We do, after all, belong to Him once we have placed our faith in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are therefore intended to partake of His nature by submitting to the lordship of His Holy Spirit and allow Him to transform our character as well as our hearts.

We are consequently expected to forgive. This is where we must attempt to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness in the Scriptures had a strong connotation associated with financial dealings between people. If you borrowed money from someone, then you owed that person a debt. If you could not repay the debt, the one who made the loan could “forgive’ that debt, canceling it so that recompense would not be pursued and the fact of owing him would not be held over your head. If the debt was not forgiven, failure to repay could result in imprisonment, slavery, or forfeiture of something very dear and near to either your heart or your survival (like your livestock, your land, or even your own children).

Forgiveness in the relational sense works pretty much the same way. When you have been hurt or “sinned against”, then the one who has injured you has incurred a debt to you. This is why we often struggle with a temptation to “get even” or “settle the score” when someone hurts us (physically, emotionally, or materially). It is important that when someone has hurt us that we not dismiss it or rationalize it, but acknowledge it to the Lord, so that we can then forgive.

Some opinions on forgiveness argue that we pretend that nothing ever happened. That’s not forgiveness in the biblical sense. Our Lord never dismissed sin as a trivial matter but in extending forgiveness to others, exhorted them to stop sinning and live transformed lives (see John 8:11 as an example).

If you have been hurt by someone, you are not called upon to willfully hand him the means to do so again when he will likely do so. Nor is it expected that if someone has fallen morally that we, in forgiving her, place in front of her again whatever it was that tempted her in the first place. It would be a bad idea, for instance, to have someone who has been convicted of embezzlement handle your money without very close monitoring. And it would not be wise to allow someone who struggles with narcotic addictions to have access to your painkillers. And forgiveness does not mean that we pursue relationships that are abusive or endanger our lives or the lives of our loved ones.

Forgiveness is simply the releasing of someone else from indebtedness to you. It is taking the position that the offending party is not going to be held to account for his or her actions (by you at any rate) and you will offer to him or her the same kind of love that Jesus has shown you. Forgiveness is when we let ourselves off the hook of trying to make others pay for their misdeeds or hurtful words. Instead, we just let it go.

Furthermore, forgiveness is something that we give even when it has not been requested by others. Note that Jesus sought forgiveness for those who had not sought such forgiveness. Forgiving others who may not care one bit whether or not we forgive them, is not about taking on an air of spiritual superiority, but is a matter of quietly releasing them from indebtedness to ourselves and entrusting their behaviors, attitudes, and actions to the Lord.

Forgiveness is, as you might have guessed, a key arena in which we employ faith in God. Forgiveness both frees us from a bondage to anger and hate, but also helps to move us “out of the way” of God’s redemptive work in the lives of others. Forgiveness even allows us to be entrusted by God with a ministry of intercession (praying on the behalf of others) and might, perhaps, be the very means by which the seeds of God’s grace can enter the life of someone else who needs God’s help as much as we did before we were forgiven by God of our sin and given the prize of salvation.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:13-14 ESV).

Just so you know, forgiving others is not something that we can necessarily do on our own. When one has been deeply hurt, or hurt repeatedly over time, it requires more than an effort of our own will to disentangle ourselves from the complex web of emotions that are spun from our anger, grief, and fear. In other words, there will likely be occasions when you will need the help of God’s Holy Spirit to be successful in forgiving others – even though you “try” with all your might to do so on your own. When in such straits, cry out to the Lord to deliver you from the terrible bondage of unforgiveness and trust that He will give you the same heart for others that Jesus has for us.


Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Wind in Your Sails

When I was wakened one night by the rushing sound of branches being tossed in the wind, I found within myself a stirring of different thoughts and emotions that paralleled the sounds of the troubled night outside. So as I began to pray. My prayers centered at first on thankfulness for the goodness of God and His faithfulness especially; and then I moved on to a plea to Him for His help in keeping me alert always for His activity so that I can be ready to obey Him promptly.

The sounds of that night prompted me into drawing a comparison between the wind that I heard and the movement of the Spirit of God in the life of His child. For instance, I had heard from friends before I went to sleep that night, that the wind could pick up in the very early morning hours, but I did not know the minute or even the hour when it might come. It made me think of sailors of the “tall ships” whose lives and livelihoods depended on such winds to move them from port to port and from harbors of rest to nets full of fish.

Such a dependence on the wind is like the dependence that we have upon God’s daily filling, promptings, and empowering. The need for a sailor’s ongoing readiness to catch the wind in the unpredictable days of yore is not dissimilar to our own need for perpetual vigilance to seize the opportunities that the Lord’s divine appointments present us.

In Matthew 25:1-13, the Lord Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, comparing it to ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom. The fact of multiple virgins was not, by the way, an endorsement of multiple spouses but a picture of the many Christians in the world that the Spirit of God has called out to attend to the bride of Christ, the Church, assisting, as it were, her preparations for her grooms arrival (see Revelation 19:6-8). It so happens that in this parable, five of the virgins were in an ongoing state of waiting and readiness, whereas five were not. The five who were ready responded quickly when the groom came and entered along with Him and His bride into the perpetual fellowship of joy. The five who were not ready tried too late to get ready, but the door of opportunity was lost to them and they never experienced the bliss that could have been theirs.

While this story is in part an admonition for us to be ready for Christ’s return, it is also a warning to be ready for such encounters with Him as He has in store for us in this life also.

There are many today in whose lives the Lord is actively at work as He calls them to experience His love and power. There are many in whom He would do a miraculous work of hope and spiritual healing. But their sails (of faithful expectancy and trusting obedience) are down and the wind of His grace blows over them in vain.

When our sails of faithful expectancy and trusting obedience are down, the wind of God's grace tends to blow over us in vain.

When our sails of faithful expectancy and trusting obedience are down, the wind of God’s grace tends to blow over us in vain.

Much of the despondency of those who are Believers is due, no doubt, to stubbornness on our part to believe that God works in such ways today. But why should we expect Him not to work in those ways? At what point does the Scripture indicate that He has ceased being involved in the affairs of His creation, especially those who are called by His name?

And it could be that some of the reason that we miss out on God working in and through our lives today is that we believe that God either cannot use us or that we are too weak, small, unimportant, or messed up for Him to bless. Those who feel this way are evidently unfamiliar with the Bible’s instruction regarding our unique potential in the eyes of God.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV).

But the main reason we miss out, I fear, is that we, in spite of our good intentions, get tired of waiting, get bored with delays, and get distracted by the busy things of life. We are too busy to adjust to the divine appointments that He lays at our feet and we give Him hardly more than a, “Just a second, God. Let me finish this first.” Or, “Oh! Was that You, Lord? Sorry! I was too busy to notice that open door!”

Well, whatever the reason, the result is the same: we fail to unfurl our sails and we are consequently not ready when the wind of God’s power and love comes. How often have we missed miraculous empowerings of God, monumental provisions from His hand, and merciful protections from harm and discouragement as He shields us from the consequences of our own limited perspective?

But don’t give up on waiting on Him… even if you’ve messed up before. Don’t fall asleep at the helm unaware that at any moment the breath of God might begin blowing through your life, carrying you on to great things only He could keep in store for you.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jesus in John 3:8 ESV).

Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to the working of God and allow Him to make you a vessel fit for the waters He has charted for your life! With the seas of the world raging all about us, you need the help of the only One Who knows how to keep you on course for the safe harbor of His will.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

In the long and tortuous hours between His betrayal by Judas Iscariot and the moment in which He finally breathed His last breath, the quiet and calm demeanor of Jesus was baffling. His attitude was strangely quiet in the face of crowds who clamored for His crucifixion, liars who leveled fiery darts of slander against His innocent love for them, and haters who hastened to heckle and harass Him while He simply prayed for the Father’s forgiveness for them.

One wonders why and how He could keep His cool (God though He was and is) in the face of such horrific hatred and malice. But of course, centuries before He was born and ministered, before He was betrayed and mocked, before He was tortured and crucified, the Scriptures foretold Jesus’ indomitable engagement with His persecutors.

“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV).

He did not defend Himself and we are hard pressed to comprehend why. It was not natural… or at least it was not what our own natures would have recommended. It was not normal… in the sense that the typical person could not be expected to behave similarly. And it was not expected… the people around Him had no clue as to what He was up to, and you and I would never have thought of such a plan or ever really intended to carry it out even if we had.

But then, most of the ways that Jesus handled things are so different from the ways we would have had we been in His place. Jesus was consistently reluctant to explain Himself to Pilate in John 19:9; He refrained to answer His accusers in front of either the Pharisee’s phony court in Mark 14:61 or later when they petitioned Pilate to execute Him in Matthew 27:12-14; and He flat out refused to even acknowledge Herod and humor his petty amusement in Luke 23:9.

There was something going on deep in the heart of Christ that allowed Him to stand strong though we would have wriggled and writhed to escape the same predicament. Though dread and sorrow surely hung about His shoulders like some cumbersome weight, He was buoyed up by an invisible strength of resolve that was fueled by His passion for accomplishing His Father’s will (John 4:34) and His compassion for those who sought an end to His holy audacity.

Now, it may seem to be an almost paradoxical observation, but His silence was far louder than any objection He might have raised vocally. Consider that the Son of God could have, at any moment, summoned 60 to 70 thousand angels to dispatch the mob that came to “arrest” Him (see Matthew 26:52-53). Consider further that at His word the sun could be made to stand still, the earth be forced to open up and swallow its inhabitants, or all of creation be reduced to dust.

But He held His tongue. He pronounced judgments upon none of those who accused, beat or mocked Him. He rendered no condemnation upon those who sought His life, neither those who called for His execution nor the ones who literally drove spikes into His blessed flesh.

There was a focus within Him that rendered all the distractions of hate around Him null and void. Righteousness prevailed, love was victorious, and now forgiveness of sin and life with God forever is ours through faith in His Son.

Amazed as I am by the awesome mercy and grace that kept Jesus from “reacting” and allowed Him instead to “respond” to the situations about Him, I am humbly reminded how difficult it can be to “forgive” those who have no real desire to be forgiven and maybe cannot see the need for it in their own lives. As much as we would like it to be otherwise, there are going to be people in our lives who will hurt us, some without malice or intent, but some who intend to hurt and wound us.

When tempted to last out when you're hurt, remember to first keep Jesus’ glory your primary concern. He'll take care of the rest!

When tempted to last out when you’re hurt, remember to first keep Jesus’ glory your primary concern. He’ll take care of the rest!

If and when such occasions do arise in your life, remember first to keep Jesus’ glory your primary concern. Then let His grace heal your heart and renew your hope. After that, simply let Him live His life out through you. Remember to love as He has loved you. Forgive… even if others do not ask for it and remember that forgiveness is not the same thing as enabling sinfulness and selfishness on the part of others. It simply means to no longer hold over the heads of others their mistakes or misdeeds.

Keep in mind that Jesus was silent against His accusers because dealing with the distractions of their hateful attacks would have compromised His purpose in redemption. But He is not silent forever. Remember that a moment is coming when there will be “a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:11b-15 ESV).

We need not fear that justice will not prevail. Let us instead rejoice that there is yet a season of grace for those who have not yet accepted His gift of forgiveness. His silence right now is a moment of mercy for those who do not yet believe.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

A Good Goodness

The world wrestles with its understanding of why Christians feel compelled to do the good deeds that they do.  It is the assumption of some, for example, that Christians “do good” and “shun evil” in order to attain some sort of moral or spiritual sense of superiority over others.  And there are some who suppose that an “agenda of good deeds” is the Christian way of securing for themselves power, position, and wealth. 

Sadly, I cannot say that there are no wolves masquerading as sheep out there in “Christendom”.  Nor can I deny that there are those who claim to be Christian, yet wear it as a badge or label simply because it is expedient for their personal ambitions (political, social, material, etc.). 

But setting aside such spiritual thuggery, the world might “condescend” to acknowledge that perhaps some Christians mean well (even if it is merely out of naivety or superstition).  But even if it does so, it tends to be under the impression that sincere Believes do their good deeds to either earn God’s forgiveness and thereby escape hell, or to earn God’s favor and, consequently, reap blessings (material, physical, relational, and so on). 

In regard to the first misconception, that good deeds are done to earn a salvation from everlasting torment, I have found myself perturbed every time that I have watched the movie “The African Queen” with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.  In it, Hepburn’s character, “Rosie”, is a missionary to Africa.  As conflict grows with imperial Germans during World War I, Rosie believes that she and “Charlie” (Bogart’s character) are about to die, leaving this world for their eternal destiny.  The prayer is interesting because it reveals what was, in the mid-twentieth Century, the understanding of Hollywood of what Christians believe about God and the so-called salvation that brought Rosie and her brother to preach in Africa.  It is a salvation based on the good deeds one does to appease an angry and petulant God.  Of course, the entertainment industry’s opinion toward Christianity and its message is far less benevolent than what it once was.   


Salvation that is earned by doing good deeds is not the Gospel message.

But a salvation that is earned by doing good deeds (or by “eschewing evil”) is not the Gospel message.  The message of the Gospel is that sinners, people who have not kept God’s Law (in either deed or in thought) and are therefore under God’s judgment, are granted forgiveness (and, subsequently, salvation) through faith (believing, receiving, and confessing) in Jesus Christ, His death, and resurrection.  To not put too fine a point on it, salvation is not something one earns. 

The second misconception, that Believers can earn God’s favor Who will then reward them because He is pleased, is one with which even Believers will wrestle. 

It is true that God is pleased with a man or woman who seeks to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  It is even true that if we obey and serve Him that we are living lives that are aligned with His will and are therefore “positioned” best to be blessed. 

However, suffering and deprivation do not necessarily indicate a life with which God is displeased (just as wealth, success, and popularity do not mean that God favors the one who is enjoying them). 

It could be that a need in someone’s life is the arena in which God intends to bring a healing or some sort of miraculous intervention to demonstrate His loving power.  It could be that a need is the “mission field” to which God sends His loving provision as He works through the lives of Christians to address that need.  Or it could be that a need is actually a personal wilderness to which God brings His loving presence.  This last kind of circumstance isolates the afflicted and teaches him or her the awesome lesson of the sufficiency of Christ. 

“…A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 ESV). 

After two thousand years, one would like to believe that the misconceptions with which we as Believers contend would long ago have been laid to rest.  It seems to me that a couple of millennia should more than suffice in convincing us that the real wonder of the Christian experience is not the blessings of God showering down upon us, but rather the Blesser Himself Who has on His heart the priority of real and vital relationship with each of us. 

And consider the life that merely loves God for what He does for us.  As long as one loves God merely for what He does, he will always be enslaved to a “religion of doing”.  He’ll continuously strive to live out a formula that prompts God into giving him what he wants, when he wants it.  Such a formula kind of faith is incapable of producing for him the lasting fulfillment that God intends for His children since God intends for Himself to be the answer to the heart’s greatest cravings, namely love, forgiveness, and the security of acceptance that we are generously granted through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God. 

Happily, as God works in you and me to help us to love Him for Who He truly is, we will learn that our righteousness flows from what He is inside of us.  In the end, it is only His life spent for us, His life within us, and His life giving birth through us to kindness, sacrifice, joy, and a living message of hope that brings about a practical application of true goodness in our lives and in the physical world around us. 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

Overcoming the Current

Currents of popular opinion sweep about us like white water waves swirling down the narrow ravine of everyday living. They threaten to sweep us off our feet into the wild seas of disillusionment and disappointment though we strive to cling to things on which we can count. When we finally find the “rock” of love and mercy that Jesus is to those who believe in Him, we finally discover a firm place to plant our feet, a solid rock on which we stand.

But then calamities of one kind or another come and they threaten to pry the fingers of faith loose even as a subtle, yet pernicious, erosion works at weakening our confidence in the words of hope that God has spoken to us.

Sadly, such waves seem appealing at times and we find it all too easy to give in to pressures and promptings. At times we not only allow ourselves to be carried along blindly by those streams of wild thoughts and reckless ideas but we revel in them, at least until we are finally cast upon the jagged rocks of brokenness and ruin.

Even more sad are those occasions when messages urging the abandonment of truth come to us under the mask of Christian leadership. There are those who advocate from the pulpit of popularity a “gospel” that is not really a gospel: a good news that is not truly “good news”, but is instead a dangerous deception.

For example, there are books and blogs that suggest that they are Christian, but pick up the threads of spiritual relativism and basically tells us that much of what we read in the Bible is untrue or is, at the very least, greatly misunderstood. They assert that there are many ways to know God, be accepted by Him, and subsequently be ushered into an eternity of bliss. They claim that there is no hell (or final judgment of any kind), since hell is not commensurate with the authors’ and artists’ ideas of God.

These notions are not new ideas in circles of “Christian” thinking. They are simply re-introduced, refurbished, and repackaged to look as though they are new messages for a new millennium.

One defender of this teaching claims that we in the contemporary world cannot understand what the Bible really means given its spiritual sophistication and the alien nuances of the cultures and languages that existed at the time of its writing.

Another writer who has advocated such “ticklish teachings” wonders “what if?” What if these notions are right? It seems to him that the cloudy ambiguities in this line of thinking are as reliable (if not more so) as the basic tenets of orthodox Christian teaching we have heard since childhood. Unfortunately, tossing “what if’s” into the mix of faith does not create a new sense of wonder and awe but ultimately robs us of the assurance that the Bible is truly trustworthy. “What if the Bible isn’t right about hell?” “What if Jesus is A way to God but only one way among many?” “What if people can be ‘saved’ after death?”

While such ideas may give us momentary (but delusional) comfort when we are considering the plight of lost loved ones, they eventually steal from us that same comfort because the consistency of the Bible’s message has been compromised. Worse yet, in saying that teachings of the Word of God can’t be taken at face value, we find that the its overall message has been rendered incoherent. Because “hell” has been explained away, heaven is suddenly suspect. Because it is assumed that one does not need to receive Christ in this lifetime, Jesus is put off indefinitely. Because other ways to God than Jesus Christ have been introduced, Jesus is demoted from “Savior and Lord” to merely “teacher and friend”.

“In the end,” says one writer, “I don’t know. And you don’t know. Which is why we have faith.” But if we simply leave things there, we are quagmired in a kind of agnosticism (which basically means, “there is no knowing”). Just who is our faith in? What is our faith in? If there is no knowing anything then there is no foundation on which to have faith.

We have been given the foundation for faith through “revelation”; specifically, God’s revealing of Himself through His Word.

We have been given the foundation for faith through “revelation”; specifically, God’s revealing of Himself through His Word.

But, happily, we have been given that foundation through “revelation”; specifically, God’s revealing of Himself through His Word. While some may say that we cannot understand what the Bible really means when we open it and read, we find that it proves to be pretty straightforward after all.

Expository preaching may help to deepen our understanding of some things in it, but we can take Jesus’ claims about Himself at face value and learn to rest in His promises. Some books and Bible study supplements can often help us to apply what we learn from the Word of God, but its claims about the Holy One, His holy law, and His righteous judgment can be taken seriously with a highly appropriate sense of urgency. Worship, religious activities, and service may energize and enrich the daily application of our faith in God’s Word, but are eternally meaningful only when they are the responses of hearts that realize the sin and destruction from which they have been delivered and the price paid by Jesus’ blood for their redemption.

Let us not play games with God’s grace and let us certainly not minimize the urgency of the hour. Men and women today are as much in dire spiritual straits as were the people of the first century who recognized their sinfulness and the inevitable consequence of their unattended condition.

Realizing that a God Who is just can only confront sin with justice, dooming all of sin’s partakers to an eternity apart from Him, “they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV).

The needs of people are the same today as they were then. Rich or poor, man or woman, young or old, black or white, people need Jesus; they need the power of His cross applied to their lives which comes only through a personal response of faith (which results in repentance and obedience to His Word); and they need Christians to proclaim the freedom found only in the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan


Have you ever felt burned-out? You know… that feeling of frustration and weariness of soul that has no clear vision for renewal. “Burn-out Syndrome” has a way of creeping into our spiritual psyches imperceptibly and sets us up for disaster because it becomes the filter through which we perceive life and the standard by which we make our decisions. When we find ourselves chin deep in what seems to be pointless striving, we are dangerously close to something akin to despair, so naturally we become extremely vulnerable to taking desperate measures to solve our problems.

The problem, of course, is a faith one (or a lack-of-faith one, to be precise). There are countless examples in the Bible of God’s men and women either falling and failing or succeeding and conquering. The determining factor for the outcome of their burn-out is consistently whether or not they refocus their lives on God and resume confidence in Him and His promises.

God’s people are clearly not immune to the hazards associated with being burned out, of course. We are, after all, on an adventure in which the Lord calls us to put our faith into action in practical ways and the biggest challenges to faith are found less often in crises than in long periods of monotony. Crisis is simply a match that ignites the fuel of mounting doubt and apathy.

the biggest challenges to faith are found less often in crises than in long periods of monotony. Crisis is simply a match that ignites the fuel of mounting doubt and apathy.

The biggest challenges to faith are found less often in crises than in long periods of monotony. Crisis is simply a match that ignites the fuel of mounting doubt and apathy – leading to a potential wipe-out!

Consider Elijah, a servant to the LORD, who had daringly confronted a king named Ahab (a weak man whose throne was controlled by his God-hating wife, Jezebel).

“Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV).

The Lord directs Elijah to a quiet haven away from Ahab’s soldiers (and Jezebel’s malice) and time passes without any weakening in the resolve of Ahab to reject God and rule the land in his own way. For a long while, Elijah lives by himself and has nothing but time on his hands. The Bible tells that after awhile, Elijah’s resources are depleted. Circumstantially, it becomes clear that God is using this in positioning Elijah to be a means of blessing someone else in need. Then, after more long waiting, God says that it is time for a showdown.

Now keep in mind that during the time that has passed, although Elijah has not been active in a physical sense (at least in regard to his calling and ministry), his mind has likely been very active. With all the down time that he has had, one would like to think that he is especially refreshed and encouraged, that any and all doubts about God’s faithfulness to Elijah, not to mention Elijah’s sense of purpose, will have been arrested in that extended “alone time” with God.

And at first it seems that way. He boldly confronts those who have been instrumental in leading people away from a concentrated and fruitful devotion to the one, true God (in Genesis 18), and through him, God thoroughly trounces them and their phony gods. One would expect Elijah to be on what we often call a “spiritual high”.

But the long moments of frustration and weariness have taken a toll on poor Elijah. Jezebel’s hatred of the Lord remains unabated, Ahab continues to be a weak-kneed ruler who will let his apostate wife rule the roost, and idolatry remains the policy of the people of Israel.

Elijah is, in every sense of the expression, burned out. He had lived his life to see the people of God return to God in whole-hearted affection. He had spent all his hopes and fears in what appears to be the vain pursuit of revival for God’s people. And it appears to be of no avail. So, he does what any of us would likely have done. He gives up. He quits. He runs away.

“It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV).

But God uses this breakdown in Elijah’s life as a means to refresh and reorient him to God’s love and power (see 1 Kings 19). When Elijah seems to be about as low as he can be (alone in a cave at Mount Horeb), God speaks.

“The word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:9-10 ESV).

Burn-out has a way of making us feel all alone and forgotten. It makes moments of failure seem bigger than they are and God smaller than He is. It takes all our hurts and fills our hearts with them. It takes all our fears and fills our sight with them. We feel that all has been pointless and must be so bad that even God cannot make anything of our messes. “He’s left me,” we think and discouragement becomes full-blown despair.

We want God to come into our circumstances with wind and fire, making the earth quake with power as He overthrows what is wrong and sets up what is right. Of course, He can do this, but because God more often works quietly in the hidden places of the hearts of people to change the world, we, in our burn-out, give up, quit, and run away (figuratively if not literally).

If this describes where you are in your walk with God right now, then remember that God is present even when the fires do not come, the winds do not blow, and the earth does not shake. It was in a still, small voice (a gentle whisper) that God spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12) in encouraging words to the effect that God was still working in unseen ways. Things were not as bad as Elijah thought, nor was he as alone as he felt. Not only that, but God would yet woo back the hearts of His people and overthrow the spiritual imposters to whom they bowed.

Today, God’s Word is filled with encouragement for His children, although we too are beset with long moments of apparently pointless waiting, long lists of seemingly fruitless failures, and long lines of increasingly hopeless people who will not listen to the hope of Jesus Christ that you profess. Very rarely is a war won with a single battle, nor is a heart changed with a single touch. If you are feeling burned out, the remedy is the rehearsing of God’s goodness to you as well as the promises He has bequeathed you. Remember to look to the God of the Bible and not your circumstances. Circumstances are, after all, only a smoky mist that distorts and shrouds the reality of the spiritual world around you.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

A Friend is a Friend

As time moves on, I think we are seeing some profound changes taking place in the way that we define friendship. It seems to me that people are generally experiencing dramatic decreases in fulfillment in friendships even as they reach out wider and wider for meaningful connections with others. Social applications like Facebook (and so forth) are single-handedly revolutionizing the way people interact and connect.

Consider the fact that the word “friend” has become intricately laced with the internet experience. Not only does the number of “friends” on the social site become a status symbol for many, but one can score “friends” without even knowing who the “friends” are. This basically decimates any previous notions we might have had of what it means to be a “friend” and waters down the wonder of having someone we can call a “true friend”.

As these careless and casual ways of using the word “friend” become more and more integrated into our thinking, the word “friend” itself has lost much power and significance, possibly obscuring the importance of a kind of relationship that we both truly need and deeply crave.

Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who may or may not have had Nazi sympathies in the Twentieth Century, once observed that “Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” While his dubious associations and non-theistic world view may cast his general perspective into doubt, the fact that “language shapes thought” is undeniable: an increasing level of vagueness for the word “friend” is creating for us a quandary when we try to understand what it means to truly connect with peers, have trusted confidantes, or faithful companions in the journey of life.

The words for “friend” in the Bible, however, have similar linguistic challenges. The Hebrew word rea and the Greek philos mean friend in just about all the ways that our English word means it (well, at least until recently), ranging from “colleague” to “bff” (“best friends forever”). Nevertheless, the Scriptures talk about a kind of friend that epitomizes what friendship should be and what it should do for us.

First, the Bible talks about the “friend” ideal of acceptance. Proverbs 17:17a says that “a friend loves at all times….” Genuine friendship is not fickle. It is likely that we have all had experiences with “fair weather friends” who enjoyed our resources when there was much to be shared, but faded from view when need and sorrow came. We therefore should deeply esteem the treasure of those who love us unconditionally and faithfully, and strive ourselves to be faithful to our friends, in plenty and in times of need and hurt.

Secondly, a “friend” is one who both says and does what we need, and does not merely pays lip service to us. In Proverbs 27:6 you will find that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Enemies rarely come to us with flaming swords and obvious hate, but instead approach with friendly ways and flattering words. Why? Generally, either to take advantage of something you have that they want or to win your heart so that their betrayals can inflict greater harm. When a companion says something that hurts, stop a moment and compare what he or she says with the truth of God’s Word. If it is not true, then simply dismiss the words of this “friend” and guard your heart in regard to your trusting of him or her. But if it is true, even if painful, then swallow pride, and ask God to help you make adjustments in your life that He sent this true fiend to share with you.

There is no greater friend than Jesus, and no greater calling for us today than to become true friends to Him as we obey Him and allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are lonely and hapless, lost and hopeless.

There is no greater friend than Jesus, and no greater calling for us today than to become true friends to Him as we obey Him and allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are lonely and hapless, lost and hopeless.

Keep in mind that having lots of friends on our social applications is about the same as referring to everyone with whom we interact on a daily basis as “friend”. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 ESV).

Look for and treasure the “true friend”. At the same time, seek to be a “true friend” to those whose hearts have been knit by God with yours.

“Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a (friend) who is near than a brother who is far away” (from Proverbs 27:10).

And obviously Jesus Himself is the very essence of what friendship is and the very best Friend one can have.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends,” said Jesus in John 15:13, just before He allowed Himself to be led away, humiliated and falsely accused, to be beaten and crucified for us. One of the highest virtues that we recognize in true friendship is personal sacrifice on behalf of another, especially to the point of death. Dying for another is the mark of true friendship. How marvelous then is the friendship that God has offered to us through Jesus Christ! He laid down His sinless life for us though we were eaten up with sin, guilty and stained!

True friendship has reached down from heaven, looked past our ugly and selfish motives and pasts, offered us hope and healing, and lifts us up from the power of fear, the clinging weight of sin, and sets us on a path of fellowship with God Himself. There is no greater friend than Jesus, and no greater calling for us today than to become true friends to Him as we obey Him and allow His friendship to flow through us into the lives of those around us who are lonely and hapless, lost and hopeless. Trust your Friend to lead you today, and be a true friend to someone who needs one.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan