Paul’s Advice to Euodia and Syntyche: “Agree with Each Other” (Philippians 4:1–3)

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.



Toward the end of the first chapter in the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he called his brothers and sisters to let “their manner of life be worthy of the gospel.” What does that look like? This call is lived out as we are seen “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”! How does God bring us to that place?

Paul describes the attitudes of the Lord Jesus that we must embrace if we would live in this “manner worthy of the gospel.” As our Father builds into us the very heart of His own Son through the ministry of His Word and the power of His Spirit, we see how to live out this new Kingdom lifestyle in our church. Then God gives us the power of the indwelling Christ to make these relationships possible!

Later in his letter, just in case we are still confused about how to do this, the apostle gives us a real-life model to follow. Two women in the church at Philippi were struggling in their relationship with each other. Paul provides wise counsel for them, telling them how to navigate through this great difficulty:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2–3)

What is happening in Paul’s heart as he is reaching toward the conclusion of his letter? After writing about the strategic partnership they share, the glory of the gospel, and our willingness to suffer for its sake, the power of the cross and the surpassing worthiness of Jesus, does he just now remember that he did want to make a comment on this situation between these two ladies before finishing his letter?

Absolutely not! Two issues prompted the writing of this letter by Paul to the Philippian church. One was his desire to thank them for the deep and full partnership they shared in the gospel, not only financially but also suffering with him and confirming the gospel together before the eyes of the watching world. The other issue that prompted this letter was the division between Euodia and Syntyche.

Sins, Hurts, Disagreements, and Disappointments

We do not know what had happened between these women. It does seem obvious that they were not arguing about whether Jesus is truly God, or whether He had in fact risen from the dead. This was a personal issue. Something had happened, perhaps a hurt or disappointment, a failure or sin of one against the other.

Paul sets the solution clearly before them. He calls them to agree with each other. He then asks co-workers to help them to that place. He had begun what we have designated “chapter 4” with a second call to “stand firm.” Nothing shakes us quite like divisions in intimate relationships!

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)

Why is this personal issue so important to the apostle Paul? We have already seen in this letter that Paul is “all about the gospel.” He is discipling this wonderful church to orient all that they are and all that they have around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything that distracts us from the primacy of the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us is an enemy of the gospel.

Surely, you have seen in your own family, or perhaps your church, how great a distraction problems in relationships become. Issues with one another seem to immediately consume all the energy available to us. Every conversation, every prayer, every moment of time, and every resource of strength must now be focused on solving this problem.

Whatever had happened between Euodia and Syntyche was affecting not only their relationship with each other but also the unity of the church at Philippi. This issue was distracting them from the work of the gospel, and Paul tells them how they must get through this: they need to agree with each other.

We Cannot Do This

Why does Paul place this exhortation where he does in his letter? He has just portrayed so beautifully, with such eloquence and power, the humility of Jesus. The very Son of God did not grasp on to what was rightfully His; He came as a servant. He laid down His life. Jesus humbled Himself.

What would it take for Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other? They would need to humble themselves. When Paul calls them to agree with each other, this does not come across to these sisters as a mystical exhortation; there is no confusion about how they must respond. Jesus had modeled before them vividly how to do this, and now He lives within His people to make this possible and the normal response of His children.

But we know very well that we cannot do this. In our churches in the West, and even increasingly throughout the world, it is not possible for us to walk in what is most basically Christian. Why can’t we do what the apostle Paul is calling these two ladies to do—to agree with each other? There are two devastating reasons.

First of all, we highly value the independence of the system in which we live, and we have learned to see the gospel through the eyes of our culture. Our independent spirit and the individualism we so highly value make it very difficult to submit to one another. Alongside this reality is our commitment to what we have learned to see as our highest good: the need to be right. We pursue our “rightness” and defend the positions we hold at any cost.

How much will we sacrifice for the sake of maintaining our rightness? We will destroy our marriage; we will split our church; we will walk out of an intimate and treasured relationship, because being right is more valuable to us than anything else. In fact, there is nothing we will not give up for the sake of being right. It is our highest good.

God Is Other than What We Are

The second reason we cannot do this is because we love justice more than mercy. We are not like our God, whose holiness defines both His person and His nature. What does it mean for God to be holy? Surely He is pure and without sin. Yes, God is completely separated from everything evil. But the first definition of holiness is “other.”

God is “other” than what we are. In every way, His uniqueness and separation from everything that we are fills our eyes with wonder, just as it does the angels around His throne. Sometimes we celebrate this aspect of God’s holiness when we sing together, “there is none like you!”

This is the place where we see most clearly that “we are not like God”: He values mercy over justice, but we value justice over mercy. That is why we would not have promised mercy to Adam and Eve in the Garden when there was no repentance on their part, or confession of their sin, or any sense of responsibility for their actions. We would have reminded them about the consequences of their choices. We are not like God; He is other than all that we are, in every way.

This is why we cannot do what Paul calls Euodia and Syntyche to do. Our commitment to justice over mercy prevents us from humbling ourselves and agreeing with each other for the sake of the gospel. Being right is a higher good than the ministry of reconciliation, and at whatever cost, whether it is a broken marriage, a broken friendship, or a broken church, we will hold out to defend our “right position.”

You may well be struggling with much of what I am saying here. On one level, this is very confrontational concerning who we are and our culture as Christians. On another level, it might seem very confusing when we talk about the attributes of God like this.

When we list the attributes of God or the characteristics of His Person, we must know that He is forever, and at every moment, fully every one of those qualities. God does not diminish one attribute at the expense of another. He is always fully just, for example. In His justice, God’s wrath must be satisfied toward all His enemies. That is why the cross was so terrible. God’s hate-filled wrath toward His enemies and His righteous justice were poured out on His own Son.

But God is also always fully mercy. He loves mercy! He gave His own Son so He could cover us with His mercy. Because we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3–14) and because all our God’s affections are focused on His Son, He loves us, too, and pours His mercy upon us.

Transformed Hearts Lead to Transformed Relationships (Philippians 2:1–13)

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.


The apostle Paul now calls the church at Philippi to own deeply in their life together those things for which we all hunger in our relationships with one another:

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy . . . (Philippians 2:1)

How we all long for encouragement, comfort, love, fellowship, affection, and compassion! This is the nurturing, secure, life-giving environment in which God’s people flourish and grow to maturity. Now, Paul says, if those are the very things you desire to flow through the relationships in your church, you also must know that they spring from these realities:

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:2)

Before we can share together those heart-healing realities described in verse one, Paul says, we must share together a common mindset, a common love commitment to one another, and we all must be moving in the same direction. Then, he reminds the church at Philippi that all this flows from a heart attitude that must reside deeply in every believer.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4)

What is this attitude? Seeing others as more important than ourselves! It is the same response of heart that Paul described to the church at Rome when he said to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Is it actually possible in this world to look at a brother or sister as more important than we are? Or to prefer another person to ourselves? Is Paul describing an ideal world? No, he is telling us of the new creations in Christ that we are becoming, and the new Kingdom in which we live. Paul is describing the normal Christian life.

Grasping and Giving

This new attitude that transforms hearts and relationships is the very attitude of the Lord Jesus:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5–7)

Jesus, very God, in the presence of the Father, owning the worship of the angels and the glories of eternity, did not hold tightly to those things that were rightfully His. He emptied Himself, not of His deity, but of His eternal prerogatives and privileges, and was born as a man.

We know well about “grasping.” Jesus did not grasp, but grasping is often the story of our lives. Because we were in Adam when he sinned and when he died, we inherit both his rebellion against God and his death. We come into this world as empty people, and we spend our lives grasping to be filled. We grasp at things, experiences, success, relationships, pleasures, and powers. Whatever we think will fill up . . . the gnawing emptiness of our souls, we grasp onto with the hope of satisfaction. Jesus came into the world full and chose to be emptied!

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Jesus did not come as any man; He did not appear as a king or a ruler. He came as the lowest form of man, a servant. He did not give Himself to any form of death; He did not die as a hero. Christ died the lowest death, that of a common criminal. He willingly gave Himself to His Father, and for you and me.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)

Since Jesus was willing to come as the lowest form of man and die the lowest form of death, God has given Him the highest place and the highest name! Someday, every knee will bow before Him—those in heaven, those on the earth, and even those under the earth. Someday, all of God’s angels of light, every person who has ever lived, and even Satan and his hosts will fall before Jesus Christ and recognize His lordship. And today, God has given you and me the privilege and joy of worshiping the One we will exalt forever!

It is critical for us to understand that we cannot live out by means of any human resource the attitudes that Paul is calling us to embrace in these Scriptures and those that follow in this letter. Only because God is giving us both the desire and the power can we live in a way that brings joy to one another and glory to our Lord.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

Living the Poured-Out Life

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.


A Gospel Worthy of Your Life - ebook cover

How would you like to live for the rest of your life doing only as you please? If you could wake up each morning and say, “Today I am going to do only what gives me the most pleasure,” wouldn’t that be wonderful? That is exactly the place where God wants us to live every day, all of our days!

That is how the Lord Jesus lived each day. He found His deepest joy in bringing pleasure to His Father.

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28–29)

The satisfaction of bringing pleasure to his Lord moved Paul to serve with every resource every day, and to lay down his life for the name of Christ.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:8–9)

By God’s grace, our ministry training pastors has flourished throughout Asia. Not too long ago, in a country where severe persecution remains a terrible reality, one of the pastors we train, Amos, was arrested for preaching while he was training his second generation of pastors, following our commitment to equip national pastors to train other pastors in their own language and culture. He was brought into an interrogation room and was strung up over a beam by a rope tied to his thumb and his big toe. After suffering for many hours, he was beaten and thrown out into the street.

Amos continued his preaching and training. Some time later, he was arrested again. This time, as he was brought into the interrogation room, he saw another pastor strung up over the same beam by the rope attached to his thumb and big toe. The interrogator said to Amos: “Sit in this chair and watch him. I will return.”

When the interrogator left, Amos quickly moved his chair under his fellow servant. Soon the interrogator returned and asked, “Who moved that chair”? Amos admitted that he had moved the chair in order to bring some relief to his hurting friend. Again, Amos was beaten and thrown into the street.

Amos continued to give himself to the gospel. Should we be grateful that another servant of our Lord was there to meet Amos when he was thrown into the street, and to remind him to endure in his suffering and to not give up on the gospel? No, there was no one there to meet Amos, and no one was needed! Amos is doing only what pleases him. He is serving the One who brings him the greatest pleasure he has ever known.

Like Pastor Van, whom we met earlier in our study, Pastor Amos would explain why he does this: “Because He is worth it!”

Measured and Poured Out

I am so glad that both the apostle Paul and our friend Amos missed the seminar on “The Balanced Christian Life.” What an enemy of the gospel! This is merely a human understanding of how to navigate complex responsibilities in a pressure-filled world.

All of us seem to have more responsibilities in our lives, relationships, and ministries than we can possibly handle. Our lives are very full, and sometimes we become confused about where to give ourselves first in order to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Some would counsel us that the answer in the face of pressure and confusion is to balance our responsibilities so that when every need is in its proper place, we can, in proportion, give ourselves to these responsibilities.

There are two very real difficulties with this perspective. First of all, none of us is smart enough to figure out how to properly balance the many roles and responsibilities that have been entrusted to us. We also lack the discipline needed to discern how to give ourselves properly, sufficiently, to our marriage, family, work, ministry, personal needs, sports, and hobbies. This is why God has given us His Holy Spirit! He is able to show us how to give ourselves to the people and the work God has given to us as we seek His leading.

Second, the “balanced Christian life” is not a biblical concept. It sounds so right, and even helpful to us as we seek to live as good stewards of God’s grace. The great problem is that this human philosophy leads to “measured-out lives.” We carefully measure our resources of time, strength, etc., in their proper proportion. But God has never called us to measure out our lives; He has called us to pour out our lives. This is Paul’s testimony:

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17–18)

Measuring out our lives is anathema to the gospel! We are called to lay down our lives for Christ and His Kingdom.

When we live poured-out lives, the questions that we ask are completely turned around. We begin to ask, “How much can I give away, and how much do I need to keep for myself? How much time can I give to encourage my brothers and sisters, and how much time do I need to spend on myself? How many of my prayers should properly be consumed on myself, and how many can I give to the gospel and the Kingdom?”

This new but simply normal Kingdom lifestyle happens only when the passions of our soul are inflamed toward Jesus. Those flames are ignited only when we see the surpassing worthiness of God’s beautiful Son!

Why Would a Pastor Walk Four Days to Train Others?

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.


When I think of suffering and the gospel, I remember Pastor Van. I wanted to attend our first pastoral training in one of the mountainous countries of Asia, but my schedule did not permit me to go. However, my friend and coworker Craig, President of Leadership Resources, was able to participate. On the first morning of their meetings, one pastor who had registered for the training had not yet arrived. As Craig was waiting to begin, he saw a man walking toward the meeting place, and he wondered if this might be the pastor they were all waiting for. He was, and that was how Craig met Pastor Van.

Pastor Van was very quiet that first day the pastors met together, and hardly entered into the group discussions around the biblical texts they were studying. Finally, when Craig had the opportunity to talk with him through an interpreter, Pastor Van told him that this very week he had decided to leave the ministry. He had a large family, and the costs for educating children in his country were very high. Some of his children were close to attending university. His church could not pay him very much, and his ministry included travel to encourage other pastors. The church was not able to help much with those expenses either. Much of those costs came out of the family funds.

Pastor Van told Craig that he had finally decided that he needed to quit the ministry and get a job to support his family. He had already signed up for this training, however, and decided to attend before he resigned from his church. That week, the group was studying the book of Jonah. How Pastor Van wrestled with that message; how he battled with the Lord! Finally, he told Craig, “How can I be another reluctant prophet? How can I run away from God?”

I was able to join another training in this country and to meet Pastor Van about two years later. Nothing had changed in his finances or his family situation. He was still seeking God’s provision for the needs of his family and trusting Him along the way. An important part of our pastoral training times include reports from the pastor trainers of their second-generation training. As I mentioned earlier, we are equipping national pastors to train other nationals in preaching and shepherding.

When it came time for Pastor Van to give his report, he told us how he walked four days, fourteen hours a day, over the foothills of the Himalayas to reach his second-generation team. I was so overwhelmed with what I was hearing that I could not speak for the rest of the evening! Our difficulty in these situations is not so much that we feel unworthy to be teachers of servants such as these—we often feel unworthy to even be in the same room with them.

I was so moved by Pastor Van’s report. I struggled through an almost sleepless night, praying for him and countless other precious brothers and sisters in similar circumstances around the world. The next morning, however, I had the opportunity to express my appreciation and gratitude to him. He, of course, had difficulty understanding why I was so moved by what he had shared; this was his normal service to his Lord. Then I asked him: “Why would you do this?” He said only one thing in response: “Because He is worth it!”

Like Pastor Van and the apostle Paul, only when the passions of our soul are inflamed in our love for Christ will we be moved to lay down our lives for the gospel.

The Apostle Paul and Praying about Praying (Philippians 1:9-11)

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.


Because the affections of Paul’s heart were deeply knit into his brothers and sisters in Philippi, and he was now in prison, his ministry to them in this present reality was focused on prayer. He was committed to partnering with God in the work He was doing in this great church. Paul knew he could do that through prayers of intercession.

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment. (Philippians 1:9)

Is that not a wonderful way to pray? May your love flourish more and more! In your relationships with one another, in your care for me and our work together in the gospel, in your heart for Christ, may love flow until it fills everything we are and all that we do. Along with that love, may God give you wisdom and understanding, to know Him, His ways and His purposes,

so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:10–11)

Paul also asked God to enable his brothers and sisters in Philippi to affirm and pursue those things that are best, to live holy lives as they prepare for the return of their Lord, and to be filled up with all that flows from a right relationship with their God. Christ is the only resource that brings those hopes to reality and results in God being worshiped and glorified.

When we read Paul’s prayer for his beloved brothers and sisters, we sense that Paul is asking God to do the very things He must desire to fulfill among them! How is it that Paul prays with such understanding? I think Paul had given much thought and even prayer as he began to intercede for this church.

Rather than assume what God wanted to do in their midst or simply asking God to be with them, bless them, or provide what they needed, Paul spent time in God’s presence with a listening heart. I believe he asked God to enable him to see this church through His eyes and to cause his heart to be sensitive to what God purposed to do in them. These were the very things Paul brought back to the Lord as he interceded for his people. Then he wrote to them the very things he was asking God to do in them.

We see this same pattern of intercession in Paul’s letters to the churches at Colossae and Ephesus. He prays so knowledgeably for the people God has entrusted to him in ministry, and I believe it is because he sought the Lord in prayer, asking God to open his eyes to the needs of his people and to God’s purposes for them before he assumed what they needed or simply asked God’s blessing on them.

This is a powerful pattern for our own prayers of intercession. When we pray for our children or our parents, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, for pastors and leaders, for missions and missionaries, and for those God has entrusted to us, it is good to “pray about praying.” We cannot assume what those people need or what God desires or just ask, “Please bless so-and-so.” Pray with knowledge, and with God’s heart, and then write to those you are praying for and tell them what you are asking God to do in and for them!

Encouragement from Our Founder, Bill Mills

Editor’s note: We had no idea that less than a month after Bill wrote the letter below, God would take Bill from us and bring him into His presence. You can read more on our web page, “Remembering Bill Mills.” The letter was originally written as an encouragement to our partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. But now knowing that these are Bill’s last widely published words has caused the words to take on much more added significance.


Dear friends,

My beloved friend Craig Parro, president of Leadership Resources, asked if I would write a letter of encouragement to our friends, prayer partners, and supporters around the world. 

My first thought was, How can I write a letter like that now, when I am so in need of encouragement myself? That is the place where we are all living right now! We all want to protect one another’s hearts, even when our present circumstances drive us toward fear and anxiety concerning those we love and our hopes for the future.

But, like me, you look back on the times when sickness, poverty, pain in your family, or threats to your career caused you to despair . . . and then remember how God brought you through. We are learning once again that everything in this world keeps changing around us. Health, finances, relationships, and circumstances keep changing, but three things never change: our God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; His Word, which is forever settled in heaven; and His steadfast love for His children. We live in that eternal God and in His faithful love!

Just a note about how our ministry is doing these days: This year we are celebrating the ministry’s fiftieth anniversary! And in this fiftieth year, we just learned from our logistics team that we are now training 12,051 pastors in 60 countries around the world through 224 indigenous mentor trainers. Many of you have been partners, people who pray and give to this work from the earliest days. May God fill us with worship and thanksgiving now as we think of how God has used us together in this great work! 

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a retreat with the leaders of our partner work in Brazil, Preach the Word. Their training has flourished not only through that great country but in many Portuguese-speaking places in the world. During a coffee break, one of the leaders asked me, “If God had fulfilled your dreams when you began this ministry, what would it look like today?” I quickly responded, “It would have been much smaller – and more about me.” God graciously taught us early to follow the ministry models of the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul, so the fruit multiplies by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God, even when we “shelter at home.” 

We all have been set free for a time to think about life realities in new ways because of our present circumstances. I have been thinking a lot about the prophet Habakkuk and his very short and very powerful Old Testament story. His book begins with his complaint to God that God is doing nothing in the midst of the violence and corruption of His people. God responds by telling His prophet that He is indeed doing something: He is going to bring the hated Babylonians to invade Judah.

Habakkuk is immediately filled with fear. The Babylonians were the terrorists of the age, and their evil devastation of the surrounding nations was well known. Habakkuk confronts God and pleads with Him to relent. When God tells the prophet that the issue is settled, Habakkuk’s anxiety grows as he waits for this horrific reality to be fulfilled. 

But when we come to the end of the book, we find the prophet dancing on the mountaintops! What has changed? Did God actually relent in light of the prophet’s arguments? Did God promise that Habakkuk would not personally be touched by the devastation? No, in fact Habakkuk’s circumstances are actually worse than at the beginning of the book. He describes so graphically his level of fear and dread, along with the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of it all:

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. (Habakkuk 3:16, ESV)

Sounds a lot like what is going on within all of us to some degree during these frightening days, doesn’t it?

So what is it that enables Habakkuk to dance with God on the mountaintops? His circumstances have gotten worse, but His view of God has gotten bigger! How has God done that? Through His powerful, life-giving Word!

God calls Habakkuk to hang on to Him and walk by faith in this situation:

The righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4, ESV)

He reminds Habakkuk that even in the midst of Judah’s depravity and Babylon’s evil, His purposes will be fulfilled: 

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV)

God assures Habakkuk that He remains on His throne, sovereign over everything happening on earth:

But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20, ESV)

Even though the Babylonians are marching through the earth in the beginning of the book, God is now marching through the earth for the salvation of His people! 

You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. (Habakkuk 3:12-13, ESV)

As Habakkuk’s view of God grows, as he sees more of God’s power and faithfulness, he sings this song of worship:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18, ESV)

God has done an amazing thing with Habakkuk. As the prophet’s view of God has grown, he is able to turn his what-if questions in chapter one into the strong affirmations of confidence and hope in chapter three! When God told him of the coming invasion, surely he wondered, “What if the Babylonians destroy our homes and our fields? What if they take our cattle? What if the vines dry up through lack of care? What if we have nothing to eat and no place to live?” 

Now Habakkuk knows that even if the things he fears the most come to pass, even if the worst happens, God is still there, and God is enough. And he begins to dance.

Even in this time when so much is uncertain and very scary, and we see the things we fear happening all around us, can the knowledge that our God is still on His throne, working for our salvation, and fulfilling His glorious purposes set our hearts free to worship? There are still high places in the mountains, and the God of all the earth is calling us to dance with Him there. I can almost hear the music beginning in your heart and in your home. Let’s get up and dance with Him and grasp onto the joy and rest He brings right now in His great power and in His steadfast, unchanging love! 

Bill Mills

Founder, Leadership Resources International

P.S.: Craig has just completed a beautiful, encouraging five-part video series on Habakkuk. Each video is about 15 minutes. Watch it at www.LeadershipResources.org/HowLongOLord.

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Enjoying Your God in Prayer

Prayer is often called one of the “spiritual disciplines” of the Christian life. Surely, we must exercise regular discipline in our daily walk with the Lord to grow into the men and women God has called us to be in His Son. At the same time, as we consistently spend time with God in the sanctuary of prayer, we want to move beyond looking at our times with Him as just a discipline.

We need to come into His presence for the joy and satisfaction we find in Him. The pleasures of His presence—that feed and fill up our souls—will take us far beyond the discipline of prayer. When we experience our deepest joy in God, our hearts run to Him. No longer do we drag our souls into the prayer room to do whatever we must do to maintain our relationship with Him.

JOY AND PLEASURE IN GOD

King David experienced such pleasure in his relationship with God. When we read his prayers and songs of worship, we know he was drawn to God—not primarily because he needed wisdom, protection, healing, or provision. David was, first of all, drawn to God because he loved Him and enjoyed being in His presence!

We see this same desire in the Apostle Paul. How much David and Paul shared in common with each other: both were murderers and both were transformed by God’s abundant mercies. And from the hearts of both of these servants flow the most beautiful songs of worship in our Bibles.

It is amazing to us as we read Paul’s letters how often he will “interrupt” his teaching with a prayer of intercession for the people he is writing to or insert a song of worship to his God. We clearly see an example of this in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

Paul plainly says that his ministry finds its source in the authority of God. And Paul’s desire is for the believers in Ephesus to also find in God what we all so desperately need: grace and peace that come from Him alone. Now Paul quickly begins to exalt and bless his God as he writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

Paul begins his letter with prayer! Already, after only a few sentences, the apostle focuses on God as he begins to describe who He is and what He is like. Paul does not say, “We need to begin our letter with prayer.” Rather, his heart opens like a fountain as he worships God and invites the Ephesian church to join him.

OUR HOPE: IN CHRIST

God, who brings us His grace and peace, has already poured on us all of the blessings that fill the heavens! How has He done this? In Christ! How rich the believers at Ephesus were—along with you and me. The heavens are filled with the presence, glory, and power of God. The mutual love, joy, and exaltation God finds in Himself as the Trinitarian God fill the heavens. He has blessed us with His love and joy because we are in Christ.

This is our one hope: God loves His Son. All the eternal affections of our holy God are focused on His Son, Jesus Christ. Because we are “in Christ,” God loves us! This is the reason we have confidence in our Father’s acceptance, mercy, and affection. Because He loves His Son, and we are in His Son, we possess all of the pure affection God reserves for His Son!

[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Paul’s worship of God flows from his pen like a song as he teaches us who we are in Christ and why we are in Him. Nothing about our performance, potential, or sincerity motivate God’s love and favor. We are in Christ because of God’s sovereign choice from eternity to make us His children and pour out His mercy upon us.

[T]o the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)

We are in Christ because of God alone. If any merit of our own contributed to our salvation, then that would distract from the glory of God. He did it all to the praise of His glorious grace! One day we will join in the throne room with myriads of angels and the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We will together fall at His feet, crying out before the Lamb who is worthy that He is the only reason we are saved. We worship Him alone.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

All the blessings of heaven are ours as God’s adopted children. We have received redemption and forgiveness through the riches of God’s grace that He lavished upon us in Christ. This is our God! Nothing about our Lord is ever measured out carefully. Everything about Him and His works are poured out. That is why we live poured out lives for His glory, rather than measured out, carefully balanced lives where everything is properly proportioned for our comfort. Our response of worship and delight in our Father reflect the measureless giving of our gracious God.

[M]aking known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Paul continues in his letter to reveal the mystery of God’s purpose. He shows us how God, through His Son, will bring all things—in time and eternity and in heaven and earth—together to fulfill His plan. God not only chose us in Christ, but predestined us for His purposes. What hope and confidence we have in Christ! God did it all to the praise of His glory, and we worship Him!

As Paul teaches the Ephesians, we clearly see how much he enjoys God and delights in Him as he prays. Paul desires the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to also enter into this delight with him.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

Enjoying the Beauty of Jesus

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This post continues from Part One: Enjoying Your God in Prayer.


When Paul writes to the church in Colossae we see he uses the  pattern of “interrupting” his instruction with a prayer, exaltation of God, or benediction. Paul had never visited this city and had not personally met these brothers and sisters. But he had heard about their faith in Christ and their love for one another from Epaphras. Near the beginning of Paul’s letter, he thanks God for the Colossians and tells them how he is praying for them. As Paul writes about what God has done through His Son, as he did to the Ephesians, he seems to break out in a song of worship right in the middle of his writing:

He is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15a)

As Paul lifts up the Lord Jesus before his readers, he glorifies Him by describing who He is, what He is like, and what He has done. Jesus is God who can be seen. We are able to know who God is and what He is like through Christ.

[T]he firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15b)

Of course, Paul is not describing Jesus as a created being. He is revealing Christ as God’s most highly exalted Son. This is the same way the Apostle John describes Jesus as God’s “only” Son (John 3:16)—unique in His eternal Person and position. In Greek and Jewish culture, the firstborn son in a family always held the preeminent position. As “the firstborn of all creation,” Jesus is preeminent over everything He created.

For by him all things were created. (Colossians 1:16a)

Paul continues to magnify Jesus Christ. He is not created. He is the creator who ranks supremely over all that exists. Everything we see has its source in the Son of God.

[I]n heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. (Colossians 1:16b)

Everything unseen was created by Jesus—from subatomic particles to the invisible spiritual realm. Paul then teaches us about the sovereignty of Christ over every kingdom throughout history. He is over every king who ever sat on a throne and every person who ever claimed authority. Every human and demonic ruler has always been subject to the One before whom every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10-11).

[A]ll things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16c)

Christ is not only the creator of all that exists, He is the recipient as well! Everything in heaven and earth was created for Him. We find our pleasure in Him because He created all things for His pleasure.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

As we read Paul’s prayer of worship that he shares with the Colossian church, we join with him in seeing Jesus more fully in His power and glory. And our eyes fill with wonder once again. He alone is preeminent and worthy of worship.

Christ is not only the source and the recipient of all that is, He is also the “glue” in the universe who holds it all together! He alone holds the planets in their orbits and keeps the stars in place. He alone binds molecules together. Christ alone holds marriages, families, and churches together. He provides the cohesive power that keeps the universe in order according to the Father’s design.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

In His preeminence, Jesus reigns as head of His Church. He is not only from the beginning, He is the beginning (John 1:1). God has designed all of time and eternity for one purpose: that His Son might reign supreme and be worshiped by every creature.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

In Christ lives all the fullness of our God! And because God’s fullness is in Christ, God was able, through Him, to reconcile everything to Himself. We could never reconcile God to us, but God can lift us up and reconcile us to Himself through the blood of His Son shed on the cross.

Paul returns later in his letter to this theme of the fullness of Christ:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

What a description of Jesus! Everything that God is, living in a body. We can see who God is and what He is like by looking at Jesus. We can know Him and live confidently in His love as His children through Jesus. We are filled in Him! In Christ, we have the fullness of our Father’s love, His approval, and the fullness of His power and joy.

Our relationship with our Father in prayer can express this same fullness. As we pray, we want to thank God for what He has done, bring Him our needs, and intercede for others. Then, as Paul models for us in his letters, we also can go on from there. Paul goes from teaching, to praying, to exalting his Savior, and exulting in Him. Paul clearly enjoys his God.

May the joy of God be the fountain that also carries our prayer lives far beyond the needs and concerns of this world. Let’s pray for the joy we find only in God and enjoy Him even more as we pray.

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

Father, how often I have “dragged myself into Your throne room” because I knew I ought to pray. Please cause me to run to You for the pleasure of Your presence. Call me with the joy of exalting You so I will know the same delight Paul experienced as he exalted You in his letters.

Teach me, Lord, to wonder at Your greatness and be in awe of who You are, what You are like, and the majesty of Your redeeming works. Father, let me never move from the amazement of Your mercy and grace poured out to me in Christ. My heart is filled with praise because You have designed all of time and eternity so He reigns supreme and forever receives the worship of Your angels, every creature, and every nation.


Language of the Heart Front CoverThis article is an excerpt of Language of the Heart: 20 Worship Prompters and Meditations on Prayer by Bill Mills, available in paperback or eBook format in our store or on Amazon.

11 Marks of Finishing Well in Ministry

This article is adapted from Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout by Bill Mills and Craig Parro. Subscribe to our blog and receive an eBook version of Finishing Well as our gift to you.


We are living in a day when many men and women are “beginning well” in the ministry but not many are “finishing well.”

So many of our brothers and our sisters began their work with a genuine call from God and a deep commitment to serve Him. Their faith was sincere and their love for God was sacrificial. Their highest desire was to give themselves for Christ and His kingdom, but along the way, the pressures, the pain, the disappointments and the failures of life have caused them to burn out, to lose heart, and to give up.

It was the fullness of Christ that enabled Paul to finish well. At the end of his third missionary journey, as he was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus and called for the elders at Ephesus to meet him there. He had ministered at Ephesus for three years, and this church was very dear to his heart. In his closing exhortation to the elders at Ephesus, we see the characteristics that enabled him to walk in the works that God had ordained for him from the foundation of the world and to fulfill the ministry that God had entrusted to him. It is these same character qualities, flowing out of the fullness of Christ, which will also enable you and me to “finish well” and to walk gloriously in the works that our Father has planned for us.

1. Integrity and Character

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;” (Acts 20:17-19)

Paul’s integrity and character were well known within the church at Ephesus. He said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.” This confidence was the foundation for the message he now brought to the elders. The character and integrity which flows from us as godly men and women will be the foundation for our ministries as well. Are these qualities the first that we seek for those who would serve in God’s Church today? It seems that we often seek and even train first for proficiency of skills in preaching, leading or technology and then we hope that the integrity is there as well. For Paul, and for those who seek God’s glory in His Church, it is of first importance.

2. Humility

True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us.

Paul walked humbly before the Lord and before His people. Like John the Baptist, Paul had the grace to see himself through the eyes of God. John knew who he was and he knew who he wasn’t. John knew he was not the Christ, but he was the one sent to be a witness to the Light. True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us. We get into trouble when we see ourselves out of proportion—as more than who God says we are or as less than He sees us to be.

3. Intimate Relationships

…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, (Acts 20:20)

Paul shared intimate relationships with his people. Earlier he said that he served with tears. Here he described the way he taught them publicly and from house to house. He was with the people and his heart went out to them and was open to them as well. Paul was knowable, touchable, available, and able to be moved deeply by their needs and their cries.

4. Message of Repentance and Faith

..testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)

Paul’s message was repentance and faith. He called all hearers to turn from their sins and from any hope other than God’s work through His Son at Calvary and to turn to Christ in faith, placing all of their hopes in His blood shed on the cross.

5. Obedient to Death

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23)

Paul was obedient to the point of death. He continued to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, knowing that afflictions, pain, persecutions, prison and even death were before him.

6. Endurance to the End

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. (Acts 20:24-25)

Paul endured to the end. Endurance may well be the most important character quality in ministry. Paul was committed to finishing his race whatever the cost. He did not bail out in the face of overwhelming obstacles because he knew God was there and was able to keep his heart.

7. Proclamation of God’s Whole Counsel

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God. The basis of his innocence before the Lord was his faithfulness to the entire message God had entrusted to him. He did not preach pet themes or speak on interesting topics that he thought might draw an audience, or pull out a verse here or there that might serve as a reinforcement for an idea that gripped his fancy. He taught all of the Scriptures as a framework for the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the people of God.

8. A Watchman over His Heart

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Paul kept watch over his own heart. He guarded his attitudes, affections, motives and desires. Paul was not deceived by the enemy into thinking that he was above the things that caused others to fall. Many pastors and missionaries get into trouble when they start believing the good things that their people say about them. After months, or even years, of hearing, “You are so wonderful, so spiritual, so sensitive or so ‘whatever,’ ” we often begin to believe that foolishness. We love living on that pedestal, and soon we think we really are different than others and not vulnerable to falling into sexual or financial sin, or other things that would bring disgrace on the name of our Lord.

There is another side to this battle as well. Other pastors and leaders get into trouble when their people do not give them the respect that they deserve or do not affirm them or care for them financially. Perhaps we are compared to the great television or radio preachers, as we discussed earlier, and are found wanting in the eyes of our people. We need to guard our hearts from anger, jealousy, and bitterness in these times.

9. A Watchman over God’s Flock

We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

Paul kept watch over the flock of God. We have been made overseers of God’s Church, His people purchased with His own blood. Savage wolves will come, even from within. There are those who distort the truth about God’s Word and even the truth about us and our ministries. Others try to draw followers to themselves. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Divisions in the Church are rampant today and a powerful tool of the enemy. Satan’s deceptions are incredibly powerful. More churches are split on the basis of “rightness” than on any other issue. Satan does not care who is right. He loves “rightness!” The Pharisees were the most “right” people in the world, but their hearts were far from God. We quickly forget that it is our love for one another which reveals that we have come from Jesus (John 13:34-35), and it is our unity which reveals that Jesus has been sent by the Father (John 17:23). We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

10. Message—God’s Grace

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul’s message was the grace of God. Again, the ministry of God’s Word was preeminent in Paul’s heart, and these Scriptures bring us to an understanding of His grace. It is our Father’s loving, merciful, gracious giving which sets us free to walk in holiness. There is no religious structure or legalistic system that can bring the people of God to loving obedience. Only the freedom of His grace moves us to the service He desires.

11. A Servant’s Heart

I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

Paul modeled the heart of a servant. We are greatly in need of men and women whose ministries are filled with character and integrity. These are attitudes of the heart and are expressed in serving. These qualities are seen most vividly in our attitudes concerning finances. God has not called us to build our lives at the expense of the sheep but to build up His sheep even at the cost of our very lives. In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

May God give us the grace to “finish well,” to persevere even to the end for the sake of His name and the building of His Church. Above all, may we hunger to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as we stand before His throne. May His glorious presence that kept us from day to day be our joy and delight for all eternity!


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The Power of the Cross in the Face of Unspeakable Tragedy

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Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev shepherd the Beslan Baptist Church in the city of Beslan, Russia. On the morning of September 1, 2004, they had sent their children off for the first day of school. The children left for Beslan School No. 1 with all of the hopes that come with the beginning of a new school year.

When the children arrived at school, they were not received with the warmth of their friends and classmates or the normal, loving affirmations of their teachers. Instead, they were confronted by the devastation and pain that life in this evil world often brings. A group of terrorists overtook the school that morning and killed several teachers, parents, and students in the process. Then they threatened to blow up the school and kill the several hundred remaining students and teachers.

Although the demands of the terrorists were not clear throughout the crisis, it was evident that they were from Chechnya, a republic in which there is a growing separatist movement and a desire on the part of many to create a Muslim state. Although the Russian government does not negotiate with terrorists, there were several attempts to set up a dialogue in order to find a way to resolve this conflict.

Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

For three days the threats continued. Some of the teachers and parents who had become hostages were killed. The terrorists, serious about their commitment to destroy the school and the children, had placed bombs in the school. On September 3, one of the bombs went off accidentally. When Russian forces stormed the school, the terrorists set off other bombs. The official record shows that 331 people were killed, 180 of them children.

Beslan Baptist Church lost fifteen children that day, as well as a Sunday school teacher and her toddler son. Pastors Tamaraz and Sergei Totiev lost six children between their two families. The pain in the hearts of our brothers and sisters was beyond anything they could bear, but they had been known for their outreach to the community, and now, in spite of their own overwhelming grief, they sought to turn the town toward the Lord.

For the Russian people, nothing could be more devastating than an attack on their children. They have no hope in the economic development of their nation; they have no hope in their government, and they have no hope for themselves in the future. All of their hope for the future is in their children. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend the suffering of the people of Beslan.

A LONG WAY FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Beslan_kollazh I had the privilege of visiting Beslan about one year after the attacks. My co-worker Todd Kelly, my longtime friend Dr. Gene Carlson (pastor of Westlink Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas), and I were teaching a pastors’ conference together in Prokhladniy, about 80 kilometers from Beslan. After preaching in various churches on Sunday morning, we traveled with Pastor Victor Levashov and a translator to Beslan.

We drove past the new school that had already been built and then arrived at the cemetery, which includes a new section dedicated as a memorial to the children, teachers, and parents who were killed that day, along with the soldiers who laid down their lives to protect them. Each gravestone is beautiful red marble, and in the very center is a picture of the loved one buried there. I was surprised to see that each grave also held a bottle of water or soda. Later I learned that the terrorists did not allow the children to drink, and all of the hostages were sick from dehydration.

After visiting the cemetery, we went to the school where the devastating battle took place. Except for the gymnasium, where the children and teachers were held for most of the time, the building had not been “cleaned up” at all. It still looked like the war zone that it was during those first three days of September, 2004. Rubble was everywhere, and bullet holes in the walls were clearly visible as we walked through the building. In the classrooms, we saw the children’s schoolwork and the lessons of the teachers. The blood of the slain terrorists was still visible on the floors and walls.

It was unclear whether the town of Beslan wanted to preserve the building as a “living memorial” to those who lost their lives, or if there had not yet been enough energy to clean up the debris. But as we walked through the school, we could still sense the heaviness and loss of those terrible days. We were overwhelmed at the thought of the evil that took place there.

As we were climbing over the debris in one of the classrooms and thinking of the children and teachers who had filled those rooms on happier days, Gene said to me: “We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden, haven’t we!” To be in a place where the depravity of the human heart had been displayed without measure, where the evil that we can perpetrate on one another is blatantly staring us in the face, reminds God’s children that the only place to “rest secure” is in His presence, which fills not only the highest places, the lowest places, and the farthest places, but the darkest places as well.

IS IT EASIER FOR CHRISTIANS?

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We left Beslan School No. 1 and went to the home of Pastor Sergei Totiev and his wife, Bella. They had lost two children, and their twelve-year-old son had been seriously wounded in the attack. He has since been to the United States for surgery. He has lost the sight in one eye, but his physical wounds are healing well. It is very difficult to know how or when his young mind and heart can be whole again, but he is with a wonderful family and church that surround him with the love of the Lord Jesus.

Isn’t the wonder of the Cross that God Himself entered the darkness and depravity of this evil world and bore in His own Son the pain of our lives? Because of the miracle of His grace, we can not only be forgiven but also healed and made whole again.

The apostle Peter described how Jesus took our sufferings on Himself in the Cross:

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:21-22)

Unlike us, Jesus was the innocent, holy Son of God. He owned the glories of heaven and the worship of the angels. Suffering and pain are an inevitable part of our human experience. We cannot avoid evil. It intrudes into our lives, bringing with it the devastation, fear, and brokenness of this world. In obedience to His Father, Jesus chose to enter into our suffering, not only identifying with us, but bearing the pain of our sin and depraved choices for us:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:23-24)

As Gene, Todd, and I sat at the dinner table with Pastor Sergei and Bella, we could see the fruit of the Cross’s power in their lives. We sensed the peace in their home, and we saw the victory of Christ in the faces of their children. After enjoying Bella’s gracious hospitality and the delicious food she had prepared, we talked for several hours about God’s goodness and His loving care shown through the Body of Christ all over the world. They shared some of the warm letters of encouragement they had received and told us that not one day had gone by since the tragedy without receiving mail from brothers and sisters who wrote to express their deep love for them. In fact, one day the post office called and asked them to come and pick up their mail because they had received more letters than all the rest of the town!

Because Jesus was willing to be wounded at Calvary, we can be healed. Because He was broken, we can be whole again through faith in Him. Sergei and Bella have experienced this reality in its fullness because they trusted God when the darkness threatened to overwhelm them. For God, the dark is as light as the day.

Just before we joined hands together in prayer and entrusted this beautiful family to the Lord, Bella told us of a conversation she had recently had with another mother in town who had lost a son. This hurting woman was still overwhelmed by the evil that had intruded into her life and by the pain of her loss. Seeing Bella, she said: “We hear it is easier for you Christians.”

Desiring to reach out to this hurting woman and to share the good news of the gospel with her, Bella responded: “No, it is not easier for us.” Bella went on to tell the woman that the grief, pain, and fear were just as real for Christians as for anyone else. Then she continued, “But God gave His Son for us.”

Angrily the woman said, “That’s His problem! I did not have a choice. My son was taken from me.”

With great wisdom and compassion, Bella comforted this woman in her pain and then said, “God gave His Son in order that you might be forgiven of your sins.”

Pastor and Bella Totiev are resting secure in Him. Even though no one could answer the “why” questions of their minds, they have been able to experience God’s healing. When the light around them became darkness, they believed what King David had taught them. God makes the darkness light. When the thing we fear the most threatens to overwhelm us, God can still see the way ahead and can carry His children to places of rest, strength, hope, and even joy.

We see in Psalm 139, and in Sergei and Bella’s tenacious hope in God, one of the great themes of the Scriptures. From the beginning to the end this message cries out to us again and again: His presence changes everything! That incredible reality becomes the certainty on which we stand when the darkness closes in.


This post is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book The Blessing of Benjamin: Living in the Power of Your Father’s Approval. Buy on Amazon.

 

Image credits:

1 Soldiers and security forces in front of the school as it burned on 3 September 2004 Photograph: Yuri Tutov/AFP/Getty Images

2 Mourners come to School No 1 to remember the victims of the 2004 Beslan school siege Photograph: Krasilnikov Stanislav/ Krasilnikov Stanislav/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

3 Other photos

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