4 Signs That God Isn’t Your First Love

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but one truth I’ve learned is that life doesn’t get easier and I’m still self-centered and proud. At times, even more than I realize. Some days, this truth grips my heart with guilt and remorse. But most times, I simply pat myself on the back and reassure myself that “I’m not that bad”.

I hate to admit it, but I struggle daily to put God first in my life even after knowing how much He loves me (Romans 8:31-39), how faithful He is despite my sin (Hosea 2:14-15), and how He has made me His child (John 1:12-13).

Of course, there have been moments when I’ve tried to make my life “more about God and less about me” after being convicted by a Bible study or teaching. But those moments are usually fleeting; I settle back in the driving seat not long after and relegate the boot (yes, not even the backseat) to God.

So these four signs come from a place of “experience”—one that I’m not proud of. And I invite you to join me in critically evaluating whether you’ve knowingly (or unknowingly) done the same.

 

1. You care about following the Bible . . . but more about following societal norms

Every day, we’re faced with hundreds of decisions—from minor ones like what outfit to wear to work, to life-changing ones like who to tie the knot with. Though we know at the back of our minds that we ought to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we allow our lives to be governed by the same considerations society has: Will this major land me a good job? Will marrying this person give me financial security? Will aligning myself with this person improve my job prospects? Because of the questions we ask, we gravitate towards the same self-actualizing decisions the rest of the world makes.

But if we truly understand the gospel, we see a completely different picture of what and whom God deems as important. The world glorifies the rich, the famous, the powerful, the proud, and those who come first. But God blesses the poor, includes the outcast, cares for the weak, exalts the humble, and recognizes those who are last. The gospel turns everything we know on its head.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the way we live must necessarily be different from the rest of the world. Will we make decisions according to what God values? Will we give generously to the poor, reach out to the marginalized, help the needy and sick, shine the spotlight on the humble, and affirm the last—even if it sets us back financially, emotionally, and physically?

 

2. You care about what God thinks . . . but not as much as what others think

 The first few years into my job, I worked hard, and felt good whenever my work was recognized by my boss or colleagues. I didn’t mind the long hours, but got extremely affected if my work was not recognized or if my boss was unhappy with me. Frustration and self-doubt occupied my mind even after working hours and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

Though I knew in my mind that I should be working for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-25), my heart was far more concerned about gaining the approval of my earthly master. For some of us, it may not be our bosses we’re trying to please, but our partners, spouses, or even friends. Whoever our “earthly master” may be, let us remember that ultimately, it is God’s opinion—not theirs—that matters. After all, He is the one who owns every one of us: He made us, loved us, saved us, and finally, will judge us.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Not Yet Married by writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org, Marshall Segal, which has challenged me to reframe my perspective about work. In his suggested “Eight Aims for Every Job”, his very first point is that we should “aspire to make God look great”. Instead of seeking the affirmation and approval of our earthly masters, we should be more concerned about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31, Matthew 5:16).

And that means rethinking what work (or life in general) is all about and what constitutes success. So what if we didn’t get the recognition or response we wanted from our hard labor? If we had the opportunity to lead another person to Christ in the course of our daily activity, we have achieved something of far greater value and eternal worth.

 

3. You care about others . . . but more about your personal time and space

After a long hard day at work, the tendency to be fiercely protective of our “me-time” is a real one. Because I’ve worked so hard today, I deserve to pamper myself. For some of us, this could be binge-watching the latest Netflix show, hitting the gym to keep our bodies trim and fit, or simply sitting on our couch scrolling through our social media feeds.

We know that reading the Bible is the key to helping us know God intimately and that we are called to serve the church and care for the needy (Matthew 25:31-40). But we tell ourselves that those things can come after we’ve tended to our own needs. Our hearts are grieved not because of the social injustice in the world, but because someone has infringed our personal space and inconvenienced us.

I have been guilty of pushing back or rescheduling appointments with friends who are going through difficult patches because I knew it would be time-consuming and emotionally-draining to meet them, and I just didn’t feel like going through it at that moment.

But Jesus clearly demonstrates through His action and words that this life we live is not about us. One of the key evidences of a follower of Christ is that he would be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24-26). We are called to live sacrificially, valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4). After all, God’s love for us empowers us to love others (1 John 4:7). And if we all lived by that truth, I daresay that we will never need to worry about our own needs.

 

4. You care about many sins . . . but not your own sin

Since the start of this year, my Bible study class has been studying the book of Hosea together and learning that our disobedience towards God is equivalent to adultery. But if we’re being honest, we usually don’t think of ourselves as that bad. I mean, how can covetousness be as bad as infidelity? What’s a white lie in comparison to sleeping with someone else’s spouse? One of the biggest dangers we as Christians face, is to think of ourselves as more righteous or more worthy of salvation than some of our non-Christian friends.

There have been countless times that I’ve frowned upon someone’s actions, or felt shock and anger about a crime I’ve read in the papers or even written off someone else as “hopeless”. In those moments, I had put myself on a pedestal and evaluated another person based on my own standards, forgetting that I’m equally sinful and equally in need of grace and mercy. I forget that God is the ultimate judge and every one of us is directly accountable to Him for our own lives—not the lives of others.

And because of that, I appreciate it when well-intentioned and close family and friends take time to point out the inconsistencies and sins in my life. Though painful, they remind me of how much I need a Savior, and how gracious and merciful God is to send His son for someone like me.

 

Penning the above points has helped me realize that the solution to my problem is not to try and get better by my own strength. If not for anything, I’m even more convicted now by the need to pray and ask God to help me grow in comprehending the full magnitude of His beauty, grace, and truth. It is God that gives me sight (John 6:65) and only when I see how glorious He is, that everything else around me will fade in comparison. I pray the same for you too.

3 Things I Learned From Reading Through the Bible in A Year

Written By Jefferson, Originally in Bahasa Indonesia

Ever since I became a Christian, I have intended to read the entire Bible in a year. But I was always preoccupied with school activities and felt that I didn’t have enough time to finish reading the Bible.

So I procrastinated for six years.

But in 2017, all the members of my small group decided to read the Bible from cover to cover together in 2018. I was convinced right away that God was telling me to finish this “task”, and agreed to the plan.

 

Preparing for the challenge

So, in the last weeks of 2017, I started preparing for what I needed to finish reading the Bible in the year ahead. I first picked a Bible translation that I enjoy (I personally prefer the ESV), and then got a study bible with notes that I could consult when I encountered verses that were hard to understand.

I then searched for a suitable Bible reading plan. I didn’t want to pick passages to read at random, but wanted a plan that would respect the Bible’s structure and enable me to see its big picture.

After comparing several plans, I decided on one which divided the books of the Bible into four categories—Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Pentateuch and the History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles. I would read a passage from each category every day.

Unlike the other reading plans, this one didn’t provide any devotional text to accompany the readings. So, I would be “compelled” to really meditate on and apply what I read in my daily life.

The last matter to decide on was the best timing in the day to read the Bible. At first I tried reading in the mornings, but could never finish all the readings before having to leave for work. So I decided to read at night instead—which worked out much better for me.

It might sound like I did a lot of planning, but I truly experienced the truth in Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” as I did so. Throughout this process, I felt as if God was the one who was establishing my path and enabling me to finish what I had set out to do.

Here are three lessons I learned from reading the Bible in a year. I hope it will inspire and encourage you to read the entire Bible in the year 2019.

 

1. Set a focus if you want to finish well

Many of us think that reading the Bible from cover to cover in one year is an incredibly hard feat. Initially, I held the same point-of-view.

In the first few days, I found it hard to read four passages in one day. I was not used to sitting down and focusing on reading for such a long period of time, especially since it involved ancient Jewish literature. At times, I felt so overwhelmed that I just skipped some of the passages.

But God kept bringing Psalm 1 to my mind. The psalm explains that the difference between a righteous and wicked person is this: the righteous delights in the law of the Lord and he meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). He is then described as being “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3).

As I reflected on this psalm, I realized that the only action the righteous man took was to meditate on the Word of God, and that kept him strong and fruitful regardless of the season he was in or what was happening around him. Even in his meditation, the righteous has to rely on God, for there’s no way that a tree could plant its own seed in the ground and grow.

So if I want to be a righteous person whose life is pleasing to God, I have to spend time in God’s Word, allowing Him to mold me and teach me. This rekindled my zeal for His Word and enabled me to accomplish my resolution.

Here’s the thing, it’s not that we can’t read the Bible in one year; but that we aren’t willing to put in the effort it takes to achieve it. And what a great loss that is for us! God Himself desires an intimate relationship with us. Why would we not pursue that?

 

2. The view at the peak is worth the climb

Since I was reading so many passages in a day, it came as no surprise that I was unable to remember all the details of what I had read. But what I can remember is the main themes and events—and it helped me appreciate the Bible from a different point-of-view. It was like finally getting to enjoy the view from a peak that I’d been longing to climb, but had only seen from snapshots other people had taken.

One of the big pictures that amazed me when reading through the Bible was the broad spectrum of emotions expressed in the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Songs). These books accurately capture the reality of ups and downs in life, from joyful times in Psalm 34 and the Songs of Songs, to the gloomy and pessimistic moments in Psalm 88 and Ecclesiastes.

However, amid these uncertainties of life, the writers affirm again and again that God is present as a Rock and Refuge, inviting us to live under His wings and follow Him. I am continuing to learn how to bring myself before God sincerely and honestly, regardless of the situation I’m facing or how I’m feeling.

Another breathtaking aspect of the view was learning afresh the truth that God is Love. It is such a simple fact that even children know it by heart, but who among us can truly comprehend the depth of that simple statement?

So majestic is the love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from the beginning that He created the world and everything in it to share this love. So holy is God’s love that He cannot tolerate sin. So deep is God’s love that He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross.

It is the story of the gospel in a nutshell—but seeing God’s character in every book of the Bible, even the ones we don’t often read, really brought that truth home to me. My understanding and knowledge of the Lord definitely deepened in ways I never expected over the course of the year.

Through the pages of the Bible, God causes “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) to shine in our hearts. I would not trade this view from the peak for anything else.

 

3. Reading the Bible helps me look forward to our glorious end

I have now read the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Can I now say that I know God well? Hardly! How many times do we have to read through the Bible to know God wholly? Two times? Three times?

The truth is that it is not until we meet the Lord face to face that we can really know Him fully. One day, God will return and dwell among us. On that day, we will see Him face to face, and death or sin will no longer stand in our way (Revelation 21, 22). We will then be able to converse directly with the Word Himself.

Until then, the Bible is the only way we can reliably know God now. We, whose minds were blinded by the gods of this world, can now see the light of the Gospel and the glory of Christ through the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:4). Though we can only know God partially because of our finite minds, He promises to meet us so that one day we can see Him fully. We may then say confidently with the apostle Paul, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known [by God since the beginning]” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I’m looking forward to that day!

While waiting to see God face to face, let us keep growing in our understanding and knowledge of Him through the Word He has given us, which ultimately points to the true, living Word—Jesus Christ.

 

I want to close by inviting you to pray a prayer by Anselm, a church father from the 11th century. After meditating on the majestic characters of God in his book Proslogion, Anselm responded with the following words:

I pray, O God, that I may know You and love You, so that I may rejoice in You. And if I cannot do so fully in this life may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness. Let the knowledge of You grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete; let Your love grow in me here and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality.

Soli Deo gloria.

What My Failed Blind Date Taught Me About God

Written By Daniel Hamlin, USA

I could feel my heart pulsing. Any sense of calm I’d been harboring fled like an outgoing tide. In the Pacific Northwest, I experienced a similar feeling looking over the edge of a cliff hundreds of feet above the wild Pacific Ocean. This time the cause was even more intimidating—I was on a blind date.

I’m not sure why I agreed to the date; I hate blind dates. The awkwardness, the apprehension, the fear of rejection. It is everything I try to avoid in life.

But there I was, trying to put on a brave face and introduce myself to a girl I was expected to impress. And if I didn’t impress, well, then I’d get the joy of having that wonderfully embarrassing conversation with the person who set us up and explain to them how it just wasn’t meant to be.

 

The Plan

Truth be told, I really did want to impress Katherine. We talked a couple times on the phone before we actually met in person for our date. She seemed fun, down-to-earth, and enjoyed the outdoors. I wanted to think outside the box and do something on our date she hadn’t done before, something other dates wouldn’t have thought of.

I came up with a plan.

I had it all figured out—we were going fishing. I know it’s not exactly every girl’s dream to go fishing on a first date but I promise it wasn’t as bad as it sounds (well maybe it was). I packed a few snacks, some chairs and fishing poles, and drove us out to a nearby lake nestled in the hills.

I set up the chairs near the water and cast our lines. We sat next to the lake talking and getting to know each other. It was quite pleasant. In fact she seemed to enjoy it, so much so that she wanted to get dinner after we were done fishing.

But the thing was, I hadn’t really planned anything other than fishing. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was an afternoon date and I didn’t take into consideration the possibility it might actually go well and she might want to get dinner afterward. So I winged it.

 

The Failed Date

I offered a few suggestions on where to eat, trying to get any hints as to what she might like, but she just politely said it was up to me to decide. Like I said, I really wanted to impress Katherine, so without telling her where we were going, I made my way to a favorite steakhouse. It was a little pricey but I hoped that would impress her.

The steakhouse is one of those classic western ones, with cowboy attire and big game trophies mounted throughout the dining room. As we sat in our booth, I couldn’t help but feel relieved at how well the date was going.

After a few minutes, the waiter returned to take our orders. Katherine ordered first.

“Can I just get a plate of vegetables?”

It was at this point that I remembered a small but significant detail about Katherine that she’d told me on one of our phone conversations—she was a vegetarian! It was also at this point that I became keenly aware of the big, dead, moose head that hung above our booth.

Yes, it is true. I took a vegetarian on a date to a steakhouse.

There was no second date.

 

How Dating Is Like Hearing God

I share this story because it taught me something about how I approach my walk with Christ. Most of us have a tendency to think we must do something great for God, show some extravagant gesture of just how much we love Him, and how great a sacrifice we’re willing to make for Him.

But even in that desire to offer Him something out of gratitude (which I believe is a good desire), it’s usually a gesture or sacrifice that we’ve determined to be what God wants. What I did with Katherine is exactly what I often do with God. Instead of listening to her, I simply chose a restaurant based on what I thought would impress her.

It’s easy to do the same with God. Instead of listening to Him and learning more about what pleases Him from His Word, I often try to please Him by doing things my way and calling it “sacrifice” or “service”.

For example, surfing has played a significant role in my life, and the Lord has used it as a means of ministry over the years. But at one point, I considered quitting surfing in an attempt to show God just how much I was willing to sacrifice for Him. I realize how minor of a dilemma this might seem to some, but for me there was nothing minor about it. It was my passion, my pursuit, my lifestyle. And I wrestled over this for days.

Then I read 1 Samuel 15:22 and it felt like a veil was removed from my eyes. It says, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” I realized then that God didn’t want my sacrifice, He wanted my obedience. I needed to obey God with all aspects of my life, including surfing, not simply sacrificing it for the sake of impressing Him.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe there are times in life when the Lord asks us to give up certain things and we need to obey at all costs because He knows what’s best for us, but it should always be done out of obedience and not sacrifice. The difference between the two is that sacrifice magnifies self, whereas obedience magnifies God.

If I truly want to please God, it won’t be accomplished by impressing Him with my own efforts but rather by simply obeying Him.

Obedience means that there is trust and intimacy between the two parties. To obey is to listen first and respond accordingly. I took Katherine fishing because I knew from talking to her on the phone that she liked nature and the outdoors. Our phone conversations weren’t quick, one-sided remarks, but there was dialogue between the two of us.

Our relationship with Christ should be similar; we should have an open and ongoing dialogue with Him. The only way to truly get to know someone is to spend time with that person, to do life with them, and talk to them in honest conversation. I believe our relationship with God is no different. The only way we learn to hear His voice is to spend time with Him; to read His word, to talk with Him, to become close with Him.

I’ve found where I often flounder with Christ is where I floundered with Katherine. I wanted to take a shortcut, to impress her by showing her how much I was willing to spend on dinner. Instead of making our date about her, I made it about me impressing her. And I often find myself making my walk with Christ about me impressing Him rather than about Him. I believe the one thing God desires most of us is intimacy, and there is no shortcut to achieve that, it can only be accomplished through personal relationship.

As we live in obedience to God we find something truly remarkable—liberty. When I realized I didn’t need to impress God, that it wasn’t about my sacrifices or efforts at all, that the only sacrifice that mattered was His sacrifice on the cross, then I began to experience a freedom and joy like no other. C. S. Lewis once said “Obedience is the road to freedom.” But the onramp to that road is the ability to listen to the Lord.

Perhaps if I’d listened first, I might not have thought it was a good idea to take a vegetarian on a date to a steakhouse.

When I Thought the Bible Wasn’t Enough

Have you ever felt the need to cushion what the Bible says? Do you ever think that maybe if you rephrased some verses a certain way or glossed over a particular passage, your friends would find the gospel more acceptable?

I found myself caught in this dilemma recently.

A few months ago, I started reading through the Gospel of Luke together with two other young mothers, Stella and May. Stella is a confessed Christian, though still very young in the faith. May has been attending churches for a few years, but has still not put her faith in Christ. Both are very eager to be reading the Bible and learning together, which I thank God for.

We’ve been reading through two chapters of the Gospel of Luke together every week.

One day, I asked in passing how their weeks had gone, and Stella launched into a tirade against her mother-in-law. She had some harsh words to say about her husband as well. Her mother-in-law’s meddling had already brought them to the brink of divorce once, and was threatening to do so again.

“Divorce would be nice,” Stella mused. “Maybe my husband would hire someone to take care of our daughter. And I would be free to start my own career or something.”

I panicked. I knew what the Bible said about divorce, but I also didn’t want to scare Stella away on her second week. Still, I had to say something.

“You want to look at what the Bible says about marriage?” I suggested somewhat feebly.

I decided to stay away from some of the Bible’s very clear passages about divorce, and focused instead on the passages that celebrated marriage as God’s design (Genesis 2:21-24, Ephesians 5:21-33, etc). After all, I didn’t want to come across as judgmental or harsh. Surely, showing her the potential beauty of marriage was the better option, right?

Stella nodded along to a lot of what I was saying. “That’s the ideal, isn’t it?” she would agree. But I’m not sure she saw how all these beautiful pictures of God’s covenant heart applied in her own situation. By the time she left to pick up her daughter from kindergarten, I still wasn’t sure I had convinced her of anything.

 

The Bible Is Sufficient

Later that week I spoke with my mentor about this, and she suggested that my responsibility simply laid in showing Stella what the Bible said. After all, God’s Word is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

I should pray for God’s Word to work in Stella’s heart, but I needn’t try to be a psychiatrist, therapist or anything else that I was not. Ultimately, I was not responsible for Stella’s decisions. But I was responsible for explaining clearly what the Bible said on the topic.

With that encouragement, I knew that next time I met with Stella, I needed to go beyond simply affirming God’s design in marriage. I needed to show her the Bible’s equally clear teachings on divorce. I shouldn’t be pushy about it, but neither should I try to tone down what the Bible teaches.

As I prepared for our weekly Bible study together, I realized that the chapters we will be reading had a clear passage concerning divorce (Luke 16:18). I marveled at how God provided such a clear opportunity. I wouldn’t even need to go out of my way to introduce the topic. This further encouraged me to give Stella the full truth of what the Bible says on marriage and divorce.

During our meeting, May and Stella asked about the passage. We took the chance to also read the first part of Matthew 19, where Jesus explains further. I then simply asked Stella and May what they thought these passages meant, and asked how they thought the passages applied today.

We thought about it a bit, and Stella commented, “So Jesus was really clear about divorce. I wonder why our world accepts it so easily. We seem to be too open-minded about the topic, aren’t we?”

I blinked in surprise at the quick change of opinion, but nodded, yes. And again I marveled again at how sufficient God’s Word was. When we faithfully work through God’s Word, instead of just choosing or picking the most familiar parts, God is faithful in giving us what we needed to live a Christian life.

Of course, one Bible-reading session is not going to solve all of Stella’s struggles in marriage. But I pray that as we continue reading the Bible together, God will continue to work in our hearts and transform us day by day to be more like Him.

If you face a same situation, or struggle to share God’s truth with a friend, here are some lessons I’ve learned that may encourage you:

 

1. Trust God to persuade others of the truth

Though I have been a Christian for many years now, I am still not confident in my ability to persuade people of the truth of Christ. However, I take comfort in the fact that I don’t have to do all the explaining. Through the Bible, God has given us His full counsel. I simply have to share it with anyone willing to listen.

One of the best ways I know to do this is to simply offer to read the Bible with people. New Christians are often willing and eager to do this, and what better way to grow than to dwell in God’s Word? But even for people who might not be interested in Christianity, we can offer the Bible’s wisdom by sharing how biblical principles shape our choices and actions.

 

2. Don’t cushion or hide what the Bible actually says

When walking with others, I really need to be careful that I don’t cushion or hide anything God says in the Bible. Everything He has written—even hard teachings about divorce—is for equipping us. I betray my own lack of trust in God when I gloss over any of the teachings I find difficult. I also do people around me a disservice when I do so, depriving them of the full counsel of God.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I need to trust that Scripture in its entirety is able to “thoroughly equip” us. That’s an incredibly comforting thought. Even if a truth from the Bible may hurt a friend or family member temporarily, I have to remind myself that it will benefit them in the long run.

 

3. Work through your questions and doubts together

If I’m reading the Bible with a friend and we come across questions, instead of telling my friends what I think, I try to point them to related Scripture that could shed light on the questions. This means looking at the previous chapter or next chapter for context, or sometimes looking up passages in other places in the Bible. This is often, though not always, enough to shed light on our current passage and make the main points clear.

And if I am concerned about the way a Christian friend is acting, I often start by asking questions. Why are they doing this? What do they think the Bible says about it? Have they considered this particular passage? And so on. I do this with the hope that we can honestly look at what the Scripture says together, and that God would use His Word to work through the situation.

 

4. Ask God for help to wisdom to understand and accept His Word

There have been times where Stella, May, and I would understand a passage clearly, but simply found it hard to swallow (Luke 18:29-30, for example). In that case we need to ask for God to change our hearts.

At other times, we’d really just not understand something Jesus said or did. When looking at parallel passages or context don’t clear up the confusion, we pray about it, and move on to the next passage. I trust that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). So we will certainly understand more and more of God’s Word as we mature in our faith.

 

At the end of the day, I’m not the one equipping Stella or May. We are simply reading God’s Word together.

I encourage you to read and share the Bible with people around you as well. And I pray that as we faithfully continue to do so, sincerely seeking to understand what God has said for our benefit, then God’s Word will work in our hearts and minds.