Three reasons you think you shouldn’t serve in your church’s kids ministry

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Whether your church calls it family ministry, children’s ministry, kids ministry… whatever it’s called, here are three reasons people often give for why they shouldn’t serve in a ministry that involves children. I propose these three reasons are exactly why you should sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.

Because You Aren’t a Kid Person

I hear this a lot. As a kids ministry leader at my church, I often hear people say they aren’t kid people. That’s why they don’t serve in kids ministry. And to a point there’s good reasoning there.

Not everyone is suited for holding babies, singing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers, and teaching elementary students to discern Jesus from the Bible lesson. In fact, there are some really good reasons a person should have no contact with kids in church. But just because you don’t feel all warm and fuzzy when kids are around, and you don’t talk to babies like you’re in a cartoon, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation.

In fact, if you are quick to say, “I’m not a kid person,” you should sign up to serve in kids ministry. Let God take that aversion you have to kids and the chaos they may make you feel, and use it to lower yourself and listen to Jesus say, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

If you’re not a kid person, you don’t have to be the lead teacher or the one who guides the toddlers in a game of follow the leader. But get on the ground next to a kid playing with the Noah’s ark play set. Let God use those kids to show you how much he loves and accepts you as you are, and is leading you to grow up to be like Jesus.

Because You Work With Kids All Day Long

A reason many give for not serving in a ministry to children is that they work with kids every day during the week. They don’t want to work with kids at church too.

Teachers, daycare workers, preschool aides… you all are the pros! Your church’s kids ministry needs you to help them learn how to manage a classroom. We need your skills!

In Exodus 35, when Moses called the people of Israel to build the tabernacle as God instructed, he called for people with different skills to use their abilities not just for their own homes, but for the house God was having them build.

Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded… All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair… ‘See the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Juday; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship…” Exodus 35:10, 26, 30-31

Jesus is building his church. And one way he does that is by calling people with different abilities in the church to serve one another using those skills. There’s an ability needed to guide a group of kids to listen and learn together. If you have that skill, sign up this Sunday to serve in your church’s ministry to the next generation. Build Jesus’ kingdom with your classroom management talents.

Because You’re Retired

In 2017, John Piper spoke to a group of college students at Grand Canyon University. The title of his speech, “Better to Lose Your Life Than Waste It.”

Towards the end of his message, Piper responds to Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem in Acts 20:22, as a fictional American trying to talk some sense into the elderly apostle:

But Paul, you’re getting old. How ’bout a little cottage on the Aegean Sea? You’ve already done more in your ministry than most people could do in five lifetimes. It’s time to rest. Let the last twenty years of your life be travel and golf, shuffleboard and putzing around the garage and digging in the garden. Let Timothy have a chance. He’s young. Don’t go to Jerusalem. Agabus the prophet has told you, they are going to bind your hands and feet and hand you over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11). And whatever you do, don’t go to Rome. And get out of your head the crazy plan of going to Spain at your age. You could get yourself killed. It isn’t American! It’s not the American Dream of ‘the sunset years.

The point of Piper’s message is old age in Jesus’ church isn’t a reason for sitting back and relaxing while younger folks do the work of the ministry. And it isn’t just John Piper preaching this message. In the Bible the psalmist pleads with God to give him a ministry even when he’s old, “So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:18)

And in Joshua 14:6-15, when 85 year old Caleb finally enters the land God promised Israel, he tells Joshua, “And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”

Not every person of retirement age can get down on the ground with toddlers, but if you’re a retiree and you can enter a church building, this Sunday you should sign up to serve the next generation of parents and children in your church.

It’s FUN!

Ok, that’s four, and it’s not a reason people give for not wanting to serve in a ministry to children. But I think it’s a reason many of us serious folks might unconsciously use as a reason we avoid kids ministry.

I tend to be too serious. In fact, it’s a prayer of mine this year that I will laugh more. I know that’s pathetic, but its true. Serving in kids ministry has caused me to laugh and have fun even while the hard things of life happen around us.

Proverbs 31 speaks of the woman who is clothed with strength and dignity. She opens her mouth and teaches others with kindness and wisdom. And she laughs at the time to come.

When you lower yourself to sit criss-cross and sing Jesus Loves Me with toddlers; when you learn to teach Jesus to a child, you will grow in strength and dignity and you’ll find yourself having the best kind of fun. You’ll laugh with a pure heart and it will be good!

I pray this stirs your heart. I pray if you’re not a kid person, and if you’re a teacher person or a retired person, you will turn your reasons for not serving the children and parents in your church into the reasons you sign up to serve them on Sunday.

Ecclesiastes and a Pandemic

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I didn’t keep a journal during this pandemic. I wish I had. I find myself scrolling back through my iPhone calendar trying to figure out how many days we’ve been like this. Arizona “reopened” on May 15th. We’re eight days into gyms, restaurants and many retail stores being open for business. But life is by no means business as usual.

For me, as a nurse working in a hospital during this crisis, I have not experienced the shelter-in-place like so many have. The big changes in my family’s life has been having our two high school boys doing school at home via online learning and my husband being mandated to work from home until May 1st. The 2019-2020 school year officially ended yesterday.  Not being able to hug my friends, pick up their kids, sit on the floor with elementary students and talk about Jesus and sing loud with them all on Sundays is by far the biggest area I’ve felt the impact of Covid-19.

I’ve been doing my shopping weekly for groceries and feed for my animals. People are shopping, some with mask, others without. To me it seems about a 50/50 split. I can now find toilet paper at Walmart and the pasta isle at Fry’s is almost back to being fully stocked. No one has harassed me for wearing my homemade mask. People have been polite and I’ve been thankful for the efforts of grocery clerks and cart runners who continue to serve me with a smile I can’t see. I may not see the smile, but the way their eyes sparkle as they nod makes me think the smile is there.

We aren’t big out-to-eat-ers so we haven’t tested the reopening of restaurants.

All in all, life feels fairly normal for my family. The strangeness is in the buzz on social media and news stations. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are tattered with anger, accusations, suspicion, conspiracy theory, blame and divisive politicizing. All those people I miss from church, see at the store, work with in the hospital, drive by running errands… they all have feelings and thoughts about all that has happened in the pandemic. A handful of them I’ve spoken to personally. And of those there’s a handful of differing opinions about what went wrong, who’s to blame, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, and where we go from here.

I’ve been listening to the audio version of the ESV translation of Ecclesiastes lately. I’m drawn to this long meditation on, “What’s the point of life?” This global pandemic has brought me face to face with my utter lack of control over life. As a Christian, I believe my God is good. Jesus showed me that. And if he’s God, and he’s good, I can just ride the wave of this pandemic and trust he’ll make everything right in the end. But it’s not that simple.

I can’t just ride the wave. People all around me are getting knocked out by the wave. Ecclesiastes reminds me that death comes to us all. Whether by Covid-19 or a car accident, cancer or coronary artery disease. Pick your reaper, either way, he’s coming. And you don’t even get to pick your reaper. So what am I to do with this life? It sometimes feels like all my concern for my neighbor, my desire to share Jesus with my friends, my heart-work to become more emotionally intelligent and aware of the logs in my eye, the work of loving a husband and raising men is for nothing.

Listening to Ecclesiastes I’m reminded that life is painful and sometimes seems fruitless. The point of it all is found in the God who made it and rules over it.  Even there I find Ecclesiastes telling me to stop trying to figure out what God is doing, and do my work, be a good friend, be thankful, love my neighbor, enjoy my glass of wine, go outside, take in a sunset and laugh when the dog chases his tail.

Tonight I’m sitting on my back porch listening to a bird sing in one of our sissoo trees. The sky is a faint peach and grey, the aftermath of a blazing fiery orange sunset that was a few minutes ago. Tonight one of my friends is sick with Covid-19. His wife is scared. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and I pray my friend gets up feeling much better. Life with Covid-19 will go on. At least until the One who makes the sun rise says it’s all over.

Conspiracy and 5 Christian Responses When Suspicions Rise

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When you shake a cup, what comes out reveals what’s been in there all along. The global corona virus pandemic has brought out the suspicion, anger and conspiracy theories in many.

I’ve been thinking about why so many of us are given to believing or promoting conspiracy theories. Folks who do so seem to be self-proclaimed prophets with their memes and YouTube videos. Their practice is name-calling, blame-shifting, complaining and crying “corruption” at every news story or government decision. Their gospel seems to be, “Repent of being dumb sheep who listen to science and news. Turn and become suspicious! Watch this enlightened person on YouTube or take this alternative supplement or treatment, or follow the politician I approve of.”  They peddle their own sources and accuse those who don’t agree with them of being gullible or worse.

Many of these folks call themselves Christians. And I’m not say they aren’t. My question is, how should the Christian approach news, disease, government and disaster? With suspicion? Anger? Blame-shifting? Slander? Pride? Arguing? These kinds of responses are not fruits of the Spirit. They aren’t Christ-like. They aren’t spiritual gifts. Those given to these practices should turn from them for the sake of love, for the gospel and for Christ’s name sake.

I have to begin by confessing my personality type would rather ignore all bad news and hide myself away in a convent somewhere, where I wouldn’t have to deal with people’s problems. My tendency to be passive and avoid conflict isn’t a fruit of the Spirit either. I am not here to say that evil should be ignored, or that justice should not be called for. I am not saying wisdom should not be sought or that conflict should be avoided. What I am saying is that scripture, Jesus and the saints who have suffered much worse than we, point us to a godly way of responding to news, government, disease and disaster. And it’s not passivity, nor is it to spread suspicion or promote a conspiracy theory.  Ed Stetzer is right, spreading conspiracy theories is hurting our witness and is foolish. So when suspicions arise, when bad news comes, when you find yourself angry about what the government is doing, what should the Christian do?

Check your eye for logs. I’ve found that the things I’m most upset about, whether in my personal relationships, or in relation to the public or government about social issues or moral issues, usually are the result of my own idols, my own faulty way of seeing the world and my own attempts to self-preserve. When Jesus taught us how to deal with people we see error in, he told us to first examine ourselves. When the corona-virus pandemic began to impact your own personal way of doing life, your bank account, your health, etc., was your response anger, blame-shifting, suspicion? Did you turn to YouTube? Did you use God’s word to scratch your itch? Ask yourself why? Why are you angry? Is it because you feel your freedom has been taken away? Do you fear being out of control? When the news is bad, or the government makes a decision that imposes on your way of life, don’t examine the news, or the government first. Examine yourself. Take scripture, look at Jesus, look at other Christians who’ve suffered well throughout history and hold it up to your own life first.

Humble yourself. The book of 1 Peter is addressed to suffering Christians. The Christians Peter wrote to suffered at the hands of a corrupt government because they were Christians. If what’s driving you to conspiracy theories, anger, or withdrawal is your belief that the government or some evil power is corrupt and out to destroy your way of life, look to the folks in 1 Peter. That was their reality. “Even if,” is one of the phrases Peter uses to encourage married women in that tumultuous time to submit themselves to their husbands, even in that culture, even if their husband’s didn’t believe the gospel of Christ. “Even if,” should be our mantra. Even if our government is corrupt (Newsflash- it is. Has there ever been a government without corruption? Are there humans in power? Then there’s corruption in power), even if there is a secret society of power trying to poison us or oppress us, 1 Peter tells us, to submit to those in authority the way his sons and daughters do. We humble ourselves. We are sons and daughters of God. We are heirs with Christ. Nothing we suffer here compares to what God has for us in Christ. So if the government is corrupt and we suffer, let us suffer as little Christs (Christ-ians), not as those promoting suspicion, anger, rebellion, pride or slander. We will not be under corruption forever. The One who rules the powers we cannot even see will, at the proper time, lift us up.

Complain to God. When I find myself getting angry, accusing, becoming cynical or suspicious of those who’ve offended or hurt me I often hear this, “Sheila, your problem isn’t with him. Your problem is with me! Come to me. Bring your complaints to me.” I don’t think we do this enough. At least I don’t. It’s no sign of moral courage to lash out with complaints, gossip, anger or suspicion when we’ve been offended, hurt or feel threatened by another. In fact, we don’t usually even take our complaints directly to the people we’re offended by. Usually we take it to someone else, or social media. It’s my conviction that when I do this, it’s because I’ve lost sight of who can make a difference in this situation. The Bible describes a good and merciful God who is completely sovereign. If our circumstances are such that we suffer, there is freedom and comfort in taking our complaints to the one who rules over our circumstances. He may change our circumstances. He may not. But He will not leave us unchanged. He promises to use every circumstance for our good and his glory. He promises to redeem it all. So we should cry, “How long!” and “Where are you?” and “Don’t you see this evil happening?” and “What are you going to do?” We should take all our complaints to the God of the Bible and throw them his way.  There is no conspiracy where God is. He rules. And we will suffer. But if we cast our complaints on him and seek refuge in Him, we can rest.

Seek Wisdom.The thing with conspiracy theories and those who promote suspicion is there’s a claim to wisdom that the general population isn’t privy to. It’s a secret wisdom, that comes from the person claiming the masses are duped. But wisdom in the Bible is never a secret. The personification of wisdom in Proverbs cries out in the streets. She’s on the news. She’s heard. She speaks and points others to the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is not suspicious, it’s, “…open to reason…” As we seek out what to do in this pandemic, submitting ourselves to earthly authorities, examining our own hearts, running to God with our concerns, we should let the spirit of wisdom guide us. And it will look like this, “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  (James 3:17-18)

Fight the Good Fight.  1 Timothy 6 there is a description of a person teaching false teachings when comes to the gospel. It says, “...he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions...” Although I’m sure that when I am given to suspicion, and when folks turn to conspiracy theories we may not be conscious of it, but we are spreading, perpetuating false teaching. If we find in ourselves a “craving for controversy,” it may be that we need to repent of being false teachers and turn to do the good works God created us to do. There is so much good to do. Even right now, with social distancing and in financial hardship, even more right now. The end of that passage in 1 Timothy 6 tells the man or woman of God what to do. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11) There is a fight the Christian should fight. It is not over 5G, or the origin of the corona virus, or vaccines, or government structure even. Our fight should be to live by faith and in so doing we should be making disciples of Christ, not disciples of our personal beliefs about any controversial thing.

We are being tested. This pandemic has shaken our earthen vessels. And out of us has come stuff we need to clean out of our cup. May God test us, purify us and make us useful for his kingdom, overflowing with joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

Distracted kids, tired parents, smart phones and what teaching your kids the Bible should really look like

 

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Lifeway Resarch group published the results of research they did to see what the contributing factors were in spiritual health among young adults.What they found was that overwhelmingly, kids who regularly read the Bible while growing up are likely to experience a healthy spiritual life with God and the church. I was both shaken and encouraged by these findings.

I don’t have a “typical” Christian household in which to raise my boys. Reading the Bible with my boys when my husband is not a believer has been a challenge. But the truth is, even where both parents are Christians, the practice of regular Bible reading with kids is probably a struggle, if it happens at all.  In another study byLifeway, among American Protestants, only a third say they read the Bible regularly.  If only a third of us are reading the Bible regularly, then the struggle to read the Bible with my kids is the norm.

But I wonder if at least one of the reasons we parents find it hard to read the Bible with our kids is because we are shooting for some kind of ideal family devotion. I’m sure there are other reasons, like- it’s hard to get a kid to read anything if it’s not on an app or screen, and we’re all so busy going different directions that trying to get everyone together to read seems nearly impossible. But I believe God has given us really clear instructions that help me throw my idealism out the window without throwing Bible-reading with my kids out too.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

This instruction from God to his people helps me so much.

Catch this sequence: God tells his people to first have his words on their own hearts. Then he tells us to “impress” his words on our kids. That means we can’t just throw a Bible, or a Bible app at them and tell them to read it. We are gonna need to get real with them. We’re gonna need to talk to them. And many times its going to feel like they aren’t listening or don’t care.

I have two teen boys. When they were little, they squirmed and fussed and sometimes sat still and listened for a whole minute. When they hit pre-teen they were tired and barked at the idea of having to sit still for a few minutes so mom could talk to them about Jesus. Now they’re at the end of their high school years and they listen a little more attentively. Sometimes. And sometimes I can drag out of them some of their own thoughts. But most of the time I have to take away a phone because they pulled it out to look at Snapchat while we’re supposed to be hearing what the Bible says. Or they get up and walk to the kitchen for a snack saying, “It’s ok mom, keep reading. I’m listening. I’m just hungry.” To which I get frustrated and have, more than a few times, given up and stopped the “devotional” time.

My point is, reading the Bible with your kids and talking to them about what God is trying to say through what you read is not going to be a neat and easy activity for most. But that’s exactly how God said it’s going to be. “When you’re at home”, “When you’re out on the road”, “When you’re getting ready for bed,” and, “When you get up,” all involve everyday life interactions. And those are never neat or easy.

The thing is we just need to start. We don’t have to forgo talking to our kids about what God says because they’re almost grown and we’ve never talked to them about it before. We don’t have to take a course on theology to start either. We don’t have to have a candle lit, and neatly-dressed, well-behaved kids sitting in a circle with their Bibles and journals opened either (although I confess this, I would love that!).  Really there are only four things we need to impress God’s word on our kids’ hearts, giving them a good start at spiritual health:

  1. Get God’s word on YOUR heart first.  Parents, grandparents… whoever you are raising kids, if you don’t take in God’s word and wrestle with it yourself, you’ll have nothing to give your kids. Spend time reading, asking God and other Christians your questions about what you read. Write down your thoughts. Confess your doubts or angst. Praise God for what speaks to you.
  2. Share the above with your kids!  The other day I sat down at the table while my 16 year old was perusing IG and said, “Hey son, can you put that down for a minute. I want to tell you something.” He put his phone down and gave me his attention and I told him I had read a Psalm that morning and it helped me because the person who wrote the Psalm basically told God, “Why aren’t you answering me? How long is life going to be this hard?” My son looked at me kinda blank and said, “Okay….” I got up, put my arm around him and said, “I just want you to know, God knows how you feel. And he wants you to talk to him about it. He is working through it all. He loves you. And I love you.” My son accepted the hug and said, “Ok, thanks mom.” That’s it. No big revelation. No hour long reading with questions and reflection. That was it. This kind of conversation can and should happen throughout your day. Every day.
  3. Engage your kids. And require them to engage. I know with my kids, it’s been hard. They’re teens. They’re boys. They’re distracted by the screen that’s become a part of their hand. They don’t like to read. They want to go off-roading and build a bonfire. But notice this verse in Deuteronomy says impress God’s word on your kids’ hearts. In the original language that means “to pierce.” I’m a busy mom. I work full time, I’m tired. I have to fight the urge to let reminding my boys to read their Bibles be enough so I can relax and watch my show on Netflix. It’s going to cost you and it’s not going to be easy. You might have to tell your 5 year old to stop twirling in circles and look at you and listen 10 times in a 1 minute talk. But do it. The message we bring should pierce our kids. That doesn’t mean we all have to be Spurgeon, but we should seek to get a response of engagement from our kids. For me, with teens, that means I ask them their thoughts and require a thoughtful answer, not just, “I dunno, can we go now mom?”
  4. Let the everyday things of life guide what you talk about from the Bible. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs parents to engage their kids with God’s word in everyday life situations. You can use a book or guide to engage your kids in God’s word. Those are good and helpful. I use my church’s daily reading or an app my kids’ youth group is using. But also, when you’re driving somewhere with your kids and a song comes on the radio that makes you think of something God’s been impressing on your heart from what you’ve read or heard taught from the Bible, tell them! Let the everyday rhythms of life be the fodder for drawing your kids’ attention to the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus.

Christian with kids, you have been entrusted souls to point to Jesus. Don’t let your idealism, your lack of Bible-knowledge, or even your busy life keep you from reading the Bible and talking about the message with your kids. Doing this is, as my pastor says, putting kindling around their hearts, that God will light it on fire for Jesus.

Christian, you are in ministry

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Tomorrow, people all over the U.S. will go to a local church. I have an opinion about what most of us going to church tomorrow think doing ministry means. I’d guess if you asked the average church attender, who among them is doing the work of the ministry, I bet they’d point to the pastor, the elders, the worship team, the children’s ministry leaders and teachers, and the student ministry leaders. I’d guess very few would say, “Me. I am doing the work of the ministry.” But that is exactly who the Bible says is to be doing the work of the ministry.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12

I serve as the kids ministry director at my church.  This isn’t the first time I’ve served in kids ministry in church. But this is the first time I’ve ever been on staff with a church and the first time I’ve submitted myself to learning to lead others well for the kingdom’s sake. This year I’ve come to realize what the mindset about ministry is among those of us who go to church and serve in some capacity on a team in our churches. The prevailing thought seems to be something like, “I serve at my church. But the pastor and the kids ministry director and the worship leader… the staff are ‘in ministry’.”

I have a theory about the connection between the lack of passion among church members about their role as Christians in the church, at home, at work and in their neighborhoods. I believe the lack of zeal among us is at least in part because we think of ministry as something that the church staff or pastor or missionaries do. We don’t think of ministry as what the nurse, the pool guy, the college student who works at Dairy Queen and the stay-at-home mom does.

I believe the thought that ministry is something pastors or missionaries, not average everyday church members do, creates a task-oriented service mindset. Without “the saints” being equipped and having a passion and conviction within themselves that they are called to ministry, volunteerism and service teams in churches will lack passion and gospel growth.

I’m in a great local church. There’s a healthy mantra among the staff and leaders in my church that says, “We don’t use people to build the church. We use the church to build people.”  We believe the heavy lifting is on our knees, asking God to move on hearts, save our friends, and fill us with joy in serving one another. But I’ve noticed in myself and in other volunteers in the church, when feel burned-out or run-down in serving, it can almost always be traced back to what motivates us to serve. If we see serving at church as a good thing to do, as sort of a holy task we add to our weekly to-do list, we run out of steam. When we drag our busy lives along with us and add church on at the end (or beginning) of a busy week, serving in any capacity on a Sunday feels like a tax.

But when we see our lives in light of the gospel; when we see our lives as not our own; when we see our lives as being for, “…the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ,” a fire of love drives our service.

The Bible lays out the case that every Christian is in ministry. Each one of us makes up a, “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As a side note, I wonder if a lot of the drive behind women in some Christian circles striving to be honored as pastors comes out of a lack of belief that every Christian (male or female) is in ministry. But I digress.

So what is, “the work of the ministry”? We certainly aren’t all to quit our day jobs and start vocational roles as pastors, teachers or missionaries. So what does it mean to be in ministry for those not in full-time vocations of teaching or preaching or leading in the church?  I’m sure it means more, but I see at least three things it means. To do the work of the ministry is to:

  1. Build up other people in the local church so they can become more like Jesus. Ephesians 4 says that Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church to equip us to do the work of the ministry so that we would grow mature in Christ. Jesus calls us shift workers, artists, plumbers, students and parents to ministry so that the other people in our local church will grow up! We help each other grow. The work of the ministry isn’t philanthropic or volunteer work in general. Ministry is how one Christian serves another person in the local church to help them become more like Jesus.
  2. Be ambassadors for Christ to the those in our neighborhoods and work, outside the church. An ambassador is a representative of one country stationed in another. Christian, we are ministers and ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom as God works through us to bring the hope of the gospel to those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20). That is ministry every Christian is called to. We represent Christ to the world. And that leads to the last thing I see doing the work of the ministry means.
  3. Serve Christ with my whole life. For eternity we will be talking about the riches of the grace Christ has poured on us, bringing us into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5-7). We give nothing- no services, no sacrifice- that is not first given to us in Jesus. And so to do the work of the ministry is to give myself with zeal daily to his service. Whatever I do, whether it be at my local church on Sunday morning, or on Tuesday evening with my kids doing homework, or on Saturday with my husband cleaning the house, or any other thing I do all week… my life is not my own.  Christ died for me so I would stop living for myself and start living for him, as I was made to (2 Corinthians 5:15).

All of life for the Christian is ministry. And when we see our lives that way, serving in some capacity on a Sunday will be one way we are doing the work of the ministry, building others in the church up to make them more like Jesus.

Why you should put your hope in the Jesus of the Bible

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It’s Jesus that my friends and family trip over when it comes to faith. They’re OK with a general nameless, faceless deity- a benevolent one. They admit not understanding but throw their hands in the air hoping that God won’t judge them any differently than they judge themselves. They trust that he (or she, or it) knows they have good intentions. And I understand. Jesus is a problem.

I mean I’m asking my friends to believe in a God-man they have never seen, but only hear about from ancient manuscripts and people who often live lives that make them think this Jesus religion is foolish if not downright mean and bigoted. I’m asking a lot. I too wrestle with the fact that I have set all my hope in this Jesus I have never seen from the Bible.

But even still, I ask my friends to consider putting their hope in Jesus for three main reasons.

First, hope in Jesus because of what he said about himself in the Bible.  It’s his words that grab my attention and force me to respond. What do I do with, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Or, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

What do I say to the Jesus who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

What will I do with the man who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)?

Second, I ask my friends to consider what Jesus did and what he led others to do. He led a counter cultural movement of scared and selfish people to elevated the poor, the socially outcast, the disabled, the sick, the women, the children, the men who the religious elite did not count as educated or knowledgeable. And this ragamuffin group, with courage, laid down their lives to tell other people that Jesus is the only one worthy of putting their hope in. They faced death daily to tell others that their only hope for being made right with God is Jesus. They did this because they lived with Jesus, they watched him heal, speak truth boldly without fear and march toward his own unjustified murder as though he could overcome death with his life. And he did. His followers saw him dead. And they saw him miraculously alive from the dead with the scars that testified to his suffering. Consider this account:

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” -John 20:25-29

Third, I want my friends to put their hope in Jesus because of the evidence in the lives of his real followers. I ask my friends to consider that Jesus is actually living in them.

There’s a big Sissoo tree in my back yard where crows, pigeons and mockingbirds perch all the time. If I were to rest under the shade of that tree while the birds tweeted and chirped in it’s branches I’d be the recipient of bird poop in my face before too long. But you know what? That bird poop is not the fruit of the tree I’m trying to find shade under.

It would be foolish for me to chop down all the trees in my yard, accusing them of bearing nasty fruit, when it’s really the birds in the trees that are dropping grossness all over my face. But so often we do this with the people who call themselves Christians or the church.

Jesus said that God’s kingdom would begin with faith as imperceptible as a mustard seed, but would grow up into a huge tree, and many birds would make their home in it’s branches. There are nasty birds in the church. But their droppings aren’t the fruit the church produces through faith in Jesus. The true Christian will produce a sort of evidence or fruit from their lives that tastes like Jesus. The Bible calls it the fruit of the Spirit. 

There are real Christians in the world. And the Spirit of Christ lives in them. And you can tell. They lay down their lives for each other. They serve even their enemies. They confess their failures and wrongs and turn to a better way quickly. They have a joy that defies circumstances even in their suffering and sorrow. They don’t hold tightly to the things of the world, but they invest their lives in others for their good. They love Jesus and they’ve never seen him.

We all put our hope in something or someone. Hope is what keeps us pressing on in this hard life and the lack of it is what leads many to stop pressing on. There is no escaping the reality that our lives are broken. We crave hope. We crave a wholeness, a peace, a justice, a love we don’t find here. And that craving will lead us to place our hope somewhere. But inevitably, the objects of our hope fail us.

Some of us hope in our willpower, skills and positive thinking. But failure and disaster are inescapable. Some of us hope in a relationship only to find that person fails to deliver the wholeness we crave. Some of us hope in doing good- maybe if we’re altruistic enough the world life will be better. And it will, sometimes. But no matter how much good (and who defines what is good is whole other topic) we do, it doesn’t fix our world or us.

Some of us hope in a certain lifestyle and maybe for yourself, if you’re born in the right place and time and have the right resources, you’ll build a nice greenhouse lifestyle that keeps the hard things out of sight and out of mind. But even if your lifestyle satisfies you, you have to turn your back on a broken world and on the reality that your relationships and other people’s relationships are broken too.

Some of us think we have given up hope. Like Hawkeye in Avengers Endgame, we lash out, taking vengeance, hardening ourselves, taking on bad-ass personas or drowning our sorrows in a bottle or porn or food. But our walls, exhibits of vulnerability-defying-strength, and pain-numbing practices are really the places we are placing our hope. Our hope becomes a prison and chains.

The tagline for my blog here starts with hope in Jesus for a reason. I have hoped in all the above and found myself with a mouthful of gritty disillusionment. I’ve choked on what I’ve tried to quench this deeper thirst in my soul with. But when I believed this Jesus who said he laid down his life for me, I found that rather than needing the world to be fixed for my benefit, I can go out into its brokenness and be broken and poured out for it’s benefit. Jesus has turned my brokenness into a spring of hope.

So why should you hope in the Jesus of the Bible? Because, I offer, that just as he said, he is the only way. He is what our souls long for.

The Hebrew Bible describes a peace called shalom. Shalom is a state of wholeness. Shalom is what we crave. Shalom is what we hope for. Shalom is what we and all the people around us, marching like ants to and fro, trying to find a place to rest our hope, are searching for. And there’s this Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)

Put your hope in Jesus because of what he said.
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he did.
Put your hope in Jesus because he’s alive in his people.

I guess there is a fourth reason.
Put your hope in Jesus because there is no hope without him.

How to study the Bible for love not knowledge

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There is a way to study the Bible solely to be more knowledgeable, more academic, and in itself there’s nothing wrong with being more Bible literate and scholarly. But there’s a huge danger in studying the Bible to know it so well you can add letters to the end of your name. It’s the danger the men who studied the law in Jesus’ day fell into. But that danger did not lead Jesus and should not lead us to steer clear of studying the Bible.  There are two practices that will keep you and I from falling into the mouth of pride when it comes to studying the Bible:

1) Look for Jesus

The Jesus Storybook Bible is for me one of the greatest works ever written on the Bible. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but pastors and teachers, Bible scholars and lay people studying the Bible should use it as sort of a danger-meter to see if their studying is leading them to fall off the cliff of pride. The tagline for Sally Lloyd-Jones’ book is, “Every story whispers his name.” But Sally Lloyd-Jones didn’t make up this good idea. Jesus did.

In Luke 24, after Jesus is raised from the dead, he joined a conversation two men were having while walking to a town called Emmaus. These men were disillusioned and dejected followers of Jesus. They witnessed the horrific death of the one they thought was the promised descendant of David who would lead Israel to victory over their enemies and bring peace to their land again. But Jesus broke into their conversation and said, ““O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)  These men knew their Bibles, but they missed Jesus. Jesus helped them see that the whole message of the scriptures they clung to was about him. 

When you pick up your Bible you should study it. You should ask the text questions. What is this telling me about God? What is going on here in this text? What does this word mean? But in your examination of the scriptures don’t fail to ask the most important questions, “Where is Jesus in this? How is this pointing to Jesus? How is Jesus needed here?”

Jesus is God’s word (John 1:1-3). That book on your shelf or in your phone that says Holy Bible on it is just the manuscript that speaks about Jesus. Study the words and listen for Jesus.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. ” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

2) Study so you can love someone else like Jesus and deliver his message to them.

Paul, when instructing the early church said, “…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (In context from 1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

We fear what we don’t know, and knowing things is good. It’s good to be educated, to gain knowledge, especially when it comes to God’s message to us, but we can’t avoid the pitfall of getting puffed up if we only seek knowledge and not love. 

The great command of God is to love him with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). As with everything we do as Christians, the aim of our practice is to love God and others the way Jesus did. Studying the Bible should never be just for increasing your knowledge.

If you have the entire 66 books memorized and can quote famous theologians and understand difficult doctrines and can whip out the four spiritual laws like a citation for every person you meet but you don’t lower yourself to lead the next generation to Jesus, pour yourself out for those who can’t give back to you, and lay down your life for your spouse, your children, your neighbors, speaking the hope of the gospel into their lives and living the hope of the gospel with your own life, you’re just a loud, annoying Bible-egghead.

The practice of studying the Bible is listening for Jesus and the aim of studying the Bible is love. I study the Bible with a group of ladies who’s chief purpose is to pull out of the text a message we can feed to children about the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ. When we get together it’s a feast! We aren’t looking for clever insights that build our resume. We’re looking for life-giving truth we can digest and regurgitate for the kids we’re going to teach on Sunday. Like mamma birds, we aren’t gathering morsels for ourselves only, we’re gathering so we can feed our little ones.

Study your Bible. But be ware of the danger of pride. Keep yourself on the safe path by looking for Jesus and feeding what you find to someone else.

 

Practices with your Bible that will keep you humble (and make William Tyndale proud)

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The accessibility of scripture is something people before us have given their lives for.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) laid down his life so that, “… the boy who drives the plow,” could know the scriptures even better than the Pope of his time. The stories of how the translation of the Bible, at the blood, sweat and tears of many, was preserved and made readily available to us should humble us. It is a treasure we have on our phones and bound in board, paper and leather. But for many of us, it’s a relic or a good luck charm or a reminder that we “should” read it, but we don’t. Our Bibles and the broken and beautiful people of God are the way the Holy Spirit feeds us, comes alongside us, leads us, teaches us, helps us see, and gives us faith.

I’m not a boy who drives a plow. I am a low-energy, struggles-with-depression, mom and wife who drives a Ford Edge with a dent scratched right through the Ford symbol on the back because I closed the garage door while the back hatch was open. Mr. Tyndale’s life was not spent in vain. His work to translate the scriptures into English has reached me. I don’t claim to know my Bible better than the Pope or a Bible scholar, but I have reaped the benefits of growing in my faith as I’ve wrestled with, prayed through, chewed on and shared what the Spirit teaches me as I read my Bible and hear its message proclaimed.

The Bible can be and has been misused. Like a sharp knife, it can be used to heal or kill. Throughout time, the word of God has been wielded to serve the self-exalting interest of the person or people holding it as a weapon of power or self-defense.  It can also be ignorantly misused, like a child playing with his daddy’s hunting knife.  I think when we pick up our Bibles we should do so with a kind of trembling. We should be aware that when we, prone-to-wander sinners by nature, redeemed though we are, read our Bibles we will tend to see it applying to everyone else, and turn every story into a moral lesson for making our lives more successful. But you don’t have to be skilled in Bible memory sword drills or have a degree in theology to be changed by God’s message in the Bible.

Here I offer these modern-day plow boy (or girl as it were) practices that will help you pick up your Bible with a holy fear and childlike faith that will serve to transform you, keeping you humble and growing in grace.

Look For Jesus

Look and listen for sights and sounds of Jesus.  In one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the risen Jesus walks alongside some men who, dejected and disillusioned walked a road processing what had just happened at the crucifixion of the one they thought would be their king. When Jesus, hearing how lost and confused they were spoke to help them, the story says, “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). The Bible is meant to lead you to one person- Jesus! Looking for him in long genealogies, or poetry, or details about dimensions of a temple is challenging. One practice that helps (some good pastor taught me this), is when reading about kings, priests and prophets, let them speak to you of Jesus both in comparison and contrast. Jesus is the greater of all the kings, priests and prophets. In much of your reading it will take time, like following a long road home, to begin to see how these stories are leading to Jesus. But as you begin, ask yourself, “What does this tell me about God? How did this lead to a need for Jesus to come? What does this tell me about humanity?” Over time, like the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke, you’ll begin to see the things concerning Jesus. And when you do it’s beautiful! It’s so worth it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

Study to Teach a Child

Tell your kids, or grand-kids or neighbor kids and kids at your church’s children’s ministry what you see of Jesus in a story or text. One of the most important things the Bible says we’re supposed to do with his message is tell it to the next generation.  I have been an attender at many Bible studies over the years. They are good. Don’t get me wrong here. But the best kind of Bible study is not the one done among people just like you- all women, all men, all of a certain affinity- (and study books written by Christian authors does not constitute a Bible study). The best kind of Bible study is the one done in an effort to pass the message of the Bible on to someone else. Taking the rich feast of scripture and making it palatable and digestible for a child is a Christlike posture of humility that is sure to produce gospel fruit.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Insert Your Name for the Bad Guy

Every time you read about the “bad guy” or cringe at some evil or bad choice someone makes, put your name there. Your first tendency will be think of your spouse, parent, neighbor, president, child… anyone but yourself. When you catch yourself thinking, “I wish so and so would read this, or believe this…” Or, “That’s just like such and such…” stop! Stop in your tracks right there. Put your name in the place of Sarah telling her husband to take another woman and impregnate her, then turning on the same woman abusively. Put your name in place of drunken Noah and his shady son. Put your name in the place of runaway Jonah, and mocking Peter, and money-hungry Judas. And then remember that Jesus died because in your heart and mine dwells the same sin that brought these to such shameful places. Then thank God. Sing. Praise him for saving a wretch like me and you and Noah.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:7-12)

Insert Your Name for the Righteous

Every time you read the word “saint” or “righteous” or “redeemed”, put your name there and get on your knees. In you and I dwells the fallen tendency to feed the sinful, deadly instinct of our flesh. But thanks be to God, Jesus has put the shame and guilt and condemnation of that nature to death and given us a heart tender to his beauty and love. Let what you read about the saint and the righteous and the redeemed inform your identity as a child of God by expensive grace. The work of Jesus has made you and me saints. We are holy ones because Jesus died for us. We are righteous because Jesus has given us his righteousness. We are redeemed because the blood of Jesus paid the price for your life.

“…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

Take up your Bible today, even now. Start at the beginning, or start where your church is currently at in the Bible. Use a Bible reading plan. However and wherever you start, start. Let the lives of those before you who suffered so you could have the Bible in your language be honored. Let the life of Jesus who embodied every truth, won every victory, fought every battle, presides as the righteous judge over every judgement and became for us every bit of our sinfulness, bearing the curse of death in our place, making us children of God- let his life be feasted upon and resurrected in you.

Man shall not live by Prozac alone

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In March, Fathom Mag published an article I wrote about my own struggle to concede my need for an anti-depressant. A wise pastor and friend helped me to see that medication was not an alternative to provision from God. It was a provision from God.

I’ve been taking Prozac for a couple years now and it has helped me function at a more healthy level. But my depression didn’t go away with antidepressants. I still wake up feeling somewhere on a scale between numb to hopeless for no apparent reason. Some seasons of depression the darkness is thick and paralyzing. Sometimes, despite it’s disorienting fog, I can still hear the birds and walk step by step in the light I have. Medication and counseling have both helped me function through times of depression. But nothing has re-lit the smoldering ash pile in my heart like God’s word.

We Are Not Just Souls

We are not just souls. We are bodies too. The gnostics believe in transcending the body to reach a higher deified goodness too good for all things physical. But Christians don’t, or shouldn’t believe that. Although I think we often do, which is part of the reason why I’m not the only Christian who’s had a hard time accepting medications for help with a mental health problem.

We believe in a risen Christ. He isn’t floating around in some ethereal existence. He has a body. A scarred body. And we believe we too will be raised into an ever-living body like his. Our God dwelt among us in a body. He ate, slept, suffered and died. And he walked on physical, resurrected feet out of a sealed tomb.

We Are Not Just Bodies

Just as we are physical, we are also spiritual beings. We need food and water and sometimes medication. But we also need God. We need his word. We need to hear him and talk with him. We need relationship with him.

Prozac has helped my physical need for serotonin. But God’s word has been my rock when, despite the medication, my world feels like sinking sand. God’s word has been the light I know is there even though I can’t see it. God’s word has been my hope when I feel numb. God’s promises have been my assurance when I feel alone. God’s word has given me words, fruit of lips as it were, so I can praise my Redeemer when I feel blank. My feelings will never match the worth of Jesus, so even when I feel nothing, when I speak God’s word out loud, I acknowledge the truth with my broken body and spirit.

When Jesus, hungry from 40 days of fasting, was tempted, he didn’t say, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” because we’re not supposed to eat. Jesus went on to eat bread, but he depended upon God’s word to overcome the spiritual testing he was going through. And in this life, full of testings of our faith, depression being one of them, we need food, and sometimes Prozac. But we cannot counter the temptation to give into faithlessness with antidepressants alone. Just as we need food for our bodies, and may need antidepressants for our ill brains, we need God’s word to withstand the temptation to let depression win.

There are many passages of scripture that are helpful in depression. But here are four key passages I recall and repeat when I find myself in it’s fog.

1. Psalm 42. The whole chapter is helpful, but particularly these words:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

When I’m depressed this psalm forces me to question myself and preach to myself. Sometimes it’s all I can say. And between the question I ask my soul and the answer I tell myself I am helped to press on in the fog.

2. Romans 8: 28-39 All ten verses… but these clips really spark a flame of hope in me.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is so much help here. These words stare depression in the face and say, “Do what you will, but you only serve her. She’ll conquer you. Because she’s mine. Christ died for her, and lives for her. Nothing, not even your poison, can separate her from my love.”

3. Micah 7:8-9

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

Depression is not sin. But I am a sinner. Depression is not a form of God’s indignation I’m made to bear. But my brokenness, the world’s brokenness, including depression, is all the result of sin in God’s image bearers.  When I sit in the deep darkness of depression I can remind myself, and my enemy, that Christ is my light. And one day I’ll be free from this darkness and see his vindication.

4. Psalm 143. Again, the whole thing. But these words are poignant.

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
    My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
    for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
    for to you I lift up my soul.

This is the prayer of the depressed. God has given me something to pray when I can’t smith together a petition of words.  This says exactly how I feel when depression comes- like those who go down to the pit. And this helps me remember what I need even more than medication- to hear the word of God. To hear him say, “I love you.”