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Beware the Siren Call of Perfect Parenting

Jim DalyBy Jim Daly

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Corinthians 10:12

In his book Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With all due respect to Tolstoy, I doubt that’s true. While every family is indeed unique, the unhappy families that I’ve seen and even been a part of seem to “break” in only a handful of ways.

Dr. Tim Elmore, founder of the Growing Leaders ministry and a frequent guest on the Focus on the Family daily program, says our mistakes fall into one of two areas: abundance or abandonment. That seems right to me. As a child, I probably had more experience with the abandonment part of the equation—situations that to the outside world look especially broken. Addiction or abuse can tear apart families; one or both parents can let their anger make them inattentive.

But these days in my role at Focus, I’ve come to believe more of us suffer from the problem of abundance, and maybe especially Christian families. We hover too much. We lecture too often. We get so focused on our children’s happiness and success that we never let them fail. We hone in so intently on our children’s performance—and our own as parents—that we develop an unhealthy and wholly futile drive for perfection.

How strange that anyone should use the word perfection in conjunction with Christianity! Of all the world’s big religions, only Christianity tells us explicitly that we can’t achieve perfection. While Buddhists seek Nirvana and Jews seek to follow the Law, we Christians live under a blanket of grace. God knows how messed up we are, and yet God loves us even when we inevitably miss the mark.

But why, then, despite this divine shower of grace, do we struggle to show that same grace to our spouses and children? The world calls out us Christians for being judgmental, and way too often the world has a point. We in the Christian community continually speak the words “unconditional love” and “saved by grace,” but we rarely apply them, whether in the culture at large or in our own homes. And so we mess up our relationships in horrible ways.

A few guys in Christian ministry talk incessantly about grace and forgiveness, but secretly (or in some cases, not so secretly) believe they’ve gotten over the whole “sin” thing. They’ve arrived at total sanctification. They’ve become exactly the person God wants them to be. But you know what? Their families, or at least the families I’m aware of, are utterly broken. The struggles of their grown children have led them to rebellion. Now, these leaders might say their families suffered because of the very ministries they led—the distractions, the interruptions, the demands, the fame. But I’m not so sure. I believe that when once you think you’ve arrived, spiritually speaking, you lose your humility. You lose your ability to engage with people who, inescapably, are so much “weaker.”

And what happens when those weaker people are your very own children? You demand more from your kids than they can ever deliver, which leads to fights, resentment, rebellion, and estrangement. It’s dangerous and utterly unhealthy to imagine you’ve arrived. We’re all broken, and imagining ourselves as faultless only reveals the worst kind of vanity. On this earth we cannot arrive at a place where we no longer sin. If we could do that, we wouldn’t need Jesus.

But even those of us who know we’re broken and who know deep in our bones our desperate need for God’s grace still feel tempted by the siren call of perfection. We don’t want to show ourselves as anything less than perfect. We hate to show weakness of any sort. And because we feel we get judged as parents by how well our kids perform or behave, we can demand perfection, or near perfection, from them too.

Few, if any, parents would say they expect perfect kids. But sometimes our actions expose our good intentions as lies.

A dysfunctional family takes root when a parent begins to seed unhealthy behavior. It happens when moms and dads try to shame or demean their sons or daughters to teach them a lesson. It happens when they use insults or biting sarcasm to drive their point home. Eventually, it reaches the point where a child can feel as though he or she can never be good enough. And then what happens? The kids check out. They know they can never reach the bar. And so their behavior takes a nosedive, which ironically makes parents raise the bar even higher.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. Kids want—no, they need—to feel love and acceptance. So they try to find that love and acceptance with friends. They know their friends will accept them, no matter what, even if they do drugs, have sex, or drink heavily. They know their friends will love them regardless. And maybe their circle of friends even encourages such behavior. Suddenly, the things that parents tried to shame their children into not doing become the very things that they think they have to do in order to feel loved. They get love the only way they know how—the love they should’ve gotten at home all along.

In the Christian community, we never stop talking about grace. We base our faith and our whole lives on it. Those of us in the evangelical world hear constantly that we can’t work our way to heaven. But what happens when it comes to our kids? Sometimes we forget.

________

When Parenting Isn't PerfectTaken from When Parenting Isn’t Perfect by Jim Daly. Click here to learn more about this title.

Perfection is the enemy of parenting.

Jim Daly sees and hears from mothers and fathers trying hard to pursue perfection. They listen to the best experts and read all the right books. When someone gives them a “World’s Best Mom” or “No. 1 Dad” coffee mug, they want it to be true. And they want their children to pursue perfection, too.

It’s admirable for parents to be the very best moms and dads they can be for their children. But sometimes in so doing, they leave grace behind—both for themselves and their children. Jim believes that our quest for perfection, a quest that he believes is particularly strong among Christians, runs counter to God’s own boundless gift of grace. We can become Pharisaical parents, quoting endless rules and holding everyone to impossible standards. But God doesn’t want us, and our kids don’t need us, to be perfect. As parents, we’re called to simply do our best. And when we fail—which we will—we’re called to try again tomorrow.

Though he’s the President of Focus on the Family, Jim does not promise that his book will be a catalyst for a perfect family. But it can help point the way toward a good family—one that feels safe and warm; one filled with love and laughter. This book will encourage mothers and fathers to embrace the messiness of parenthood and show grace to their own less-than-ideal children. Jim, through his own experiences, expertise, and array of stories, will lead both moms and dads to a better understanding of what being a good family is all about.

Jim Daly is the president and CEO of Focus on the Family. Daly has received the 2008 World Children’s Center Humanitarian Award and the 2009 Children’s Hunger Fund Children’s Champion Award. He has appeared on such television programs as ABC “World News Tonight” and PBS’ “Religion & Ethics”; and been featured in Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and Newsweek, which named him one of the top 10 next-generation evangelical leaders of influence. Daly and his wife have two sons and reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Being the Strong Father Your Children Need: An Interview with Meg Meeker, MD

Meg Meeker, MDDoes society undervalue fatherhood? When men are defined primarily by their professional accomplishments, where does that leave their approach to parenting? How can being a strong, active dad be a man’s greatest triumph?

In time for Father’s Day, Bible Gateway interviewed Meg Meeker, MD (@megmeekermd) about her book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need (Regnery Faith, 2017).

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How does the Bible portray God as a role model for fathers?

Meg Meeker, MD: God is serious about fathers and the influence they have on their children, the culture and the survival of humanity. However, we’re living in a culture that doesn’t like fathers very much. Media portrays them as idiots who hog TV remotes, need correction by snarky 11-year-olds, and who serve as fodder for comedians. In many ways, God knew that today was coming. So we, who love him, need to be about the business of building up every father, everywhere.

What role should the Bible play in the development of strong father characteristics?

Meg Meeker, MD: Committing yourself to becoming a strong father can be tough, but it’s 100% worth the effort. One of the best places to look for inspiration is in the Bible: start to study God the Father. How does he speak and make you feel, and what does he promise? Then, mimic him.

When a man looks in his heart and identifies what he longs for from God the Father, he should turn and give precisely that to his own children. If he longs for love, acceptance, and significance from God, then he should ask God to fill those needs and then he can turn to his own children and give these to them.

When a father mimics God’s behavior to his children successfully, the child learns to trust him, feel loved by him, and draw close to him. As the child grows and learns that the word “father” is wonderful, he’ll far more easily open his heart to God the Father.

How do you define a “Hero” dad?

Meg Meeker, MD: Young children have knowledge given by God that their fathers are different from their mothers. Fathers sound, smell, and feel different from their mothers. A child sees a father as having an authority that his mother doesn’t. You know this because you were a child and knew that your mother was the safe person who would always be there, always love you, and would not leave you. Most children—even children who have disappointing mothers—believe that this is the way life should be. A child looks to a father as one who will protect, love, and defend him, and when a father tells him that he’s capable, he knows in the deepest part of his being that he’s capable. Fathers are their child’s hero because they see him as one.

One other thing to be acutely aware of: fathers, you share your name with God himself. God shares his because he loves men not just because they’re human, but because he loves fatherhood. He hand-picked men to be dads. Of course, God values mothers, but he calls men to be something different to their children.

God carries authority. Fathers carry an unmatched authority in their children’s eyes. We see God as the most powerful, wise, intelligent, caring being in the universe. We see him this way not only because this is who he claims to be, but because we have the perspective of a child. Our children see their fathers as wise, strong heroes. Fathers may not feel like they’re heroes, but make no mistake, children see their fathers as heroes just as we see God our Father as our everything.

You write that daughters and sons need different things from their fathers. Explain.

Meg Meeker, MD: Any person who grew up with a father and mother understands and embraces the stark differences between mothers and fathers. Children need fathers to provide things their mothers can’t and vice versa.

For instance, daughters need to know their fathers love them enough to protect them; give them affection and approval. After listening to thousands of teen girls over 30 years, I’ve learned that the overwhelming majority of girls need male attention and affection, and when they don’t get it from their dads, they’ll go anywhere to find it—even if the attention is harmful. Girls may receive plenty of attention from their mothers but if their fathers ignore them, their self-esteem plummets.

Similarly, boys need different things from their fathers than from mothers. While we hear of dying men crying out for their mothers, we all know men in their adult years who still seek approval from their fathers—even if those fathers have died. The drive for a father’s approval, affirmation, and affection is powerful and primal because it’s placed by God. Great mothers can express these things, but to a child, they’re different. Not less important or more, just different. Since this is a need that God created in children, we have an obligation to honor it.

What do you think God expects from fathers?

Meg Meeker, MD: Every good father wonders what God expects of him and what his children need from him. Here’s the good news: neither wants perfection. Each simply wants a father to get the big stuff right.

God equips fathers to express deep love to their children. He doesn’t care how much money they make, what sports they sign their kids up for, or how much stuff they give them. Kids want their hero dads to love them like crazy, to let them know that they believe in them, and they cherish them like God cherishes them. Hard to believe that being a hero is this simple but it is.

Think about your own father. What did you really want from him? God placed those needs in your child heart and those are the needs your child has for you, their dad. When a father meets these needs, they cover all sorts of mistakes. So, fathers should take heart; great parenting is simpler than you think, but it is hard.

How can fathers lead their children in a godly manner?

Meg Meeker, MD: Many fathers coach their children in their sports, academics, and other activities, and this is good. But there’s a difference between coaching and leading.

Coaches tell kids what to do and cheer from the sidelines. Leaders walk in front of children and show them the way to live well.

Paul did this. He exhorted friends to do what he did. He was more interested in people watching and mimicking him than in paying heed to his words because he knew words hold less power than actions. He spoke the truth, lived with integrity (didn’t lie, steal, cheat; and he respected others) in front of others and asked them to follow. This, I believe, is the charge that God asks of fathers in their homes. God cares more about a father’s character than his performance and that, as a believer, is wonderful news. That’s why God gave us Paul: to show us again that living great character before people changes lives more potently than pushing them to perform.

What are practical ways that dads can show up for their kids?

Meg Meeker, MD: Fathers hold power in their children’s lives. The question isn’t whether fathers influence their children; the question is: will that influence be for good or for ill? That’s up to each father. Where does a dad begin? Again, it’s simple. Here are a few ways to get you started:

  • Spend 15 minutes per day more at home detached from a screen. Sit in a room with a child who’s studying. Go in the backyard and kick a soccer ball. Read aloud.
  • Trust your instincts. The next time your child asks to watch a show you don’t want her to see, rather than be the nice guy—if your gut says no—then tell her no. Don’t worry about histrionics, temper tantrums, etc.; just do what you believe is right.
  • Move toward your child, not away. If you’re tempted to drop in the background and throw up your hands, don’t. If your 13-year-old slams doors and tells you she hates you, don’t go away. Later in the day, go to her and ask how she is. Ask if she wants to have lunch with you or even just go on errands. Never take your child’s behavior personally. When a child acts up, they are asking for more attention. Not less. So gently move toward him or her, never away.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Meg Meeker, MD: God cherishes fathers and this is clear throughout the Old Testament and the New. Our culture shames them and this sentiment infiltrates even professional parenting advice. That’s why we who love God and serve him must always seek his truth in the Scriptures on all important issues—especially in areas as important to God as raising children. That’s why, as a professional and Christian, I appreciate the work of Bible Gateway so much!


Bio: Meg Meeker, MD, has spent over 30 years practicing pediatric and adolescent medicine and counseling teens and parents. Dr. Meeker is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and serves on the Advisory Board of the Medical Institute. A popular speaker and bestselling author of such books as Hero, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, and Boys Should Be Boys, she works with the NFL Fatherhood Initiative and is a co-host of Dr. James Dobson’s program Family Talk. Dr. Meeker lives and works in northern Michigan, where she shares a medical practice with her husband, Walter. They have four children.

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John Piper Video Bible Study: 9 Arguments Against Anxiety

This 3-part Bible study on Matthew 6:24–34 (ESV) by John Piper (@JohnPiper) focuses on the topic of anxiety and how Jesus tells us we shouldn’t worry or have anxious hearts. We should, instead, concentrate on biblical truth to calm our fears.

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Read Matthew 6:24–34 (KJV, NIV, CSB, CEB, ESV in parallel)

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John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s the author of more than 50 books, including Reading the Bible Supernaturally, A Peculiar Glory, and The Satisfied Soul.

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Bible News Roundup – Week of June 11, 2017

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
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Sorry, Old Testament: Most Theologians Don’t Use You
CT
Read the Old Testament on Bible Gateway

Canadian Christian School May Battle School Division Over Bible Teachings
Global News

The Bible Given to President John Quincy Adams
National Park Service
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, A Collection of Bible Museums & Exhibits

Georgia Family Loses Everything in a Fire, Except a Bible
WBIR-TV
Read Job 1:21-22 on Bible Gateway

Bible Intact After Cakaudrove Fire in Fiji
Fiji Sun

Iowa Bible Reading Marathon Set for June 19
Daily Iowegian

15th Annual Public Bible Reading Spreads God’s Word in Canada
The Daily Observer

Researcher Finds Relationship Between Chinese Characters and Biblical Text
Adventist News Network
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Mass Grave of Child Slaves From Ancient Egypt May Contain Clue to Israelite Exodus Story
Breaking Israel News
Read Exodus 1:22 on Bible Gateway

Bible Society of India Urged to Introduce Bible in Braille Form
TNT Magazine

‘God’s Word Through African Eyes’: First Africa Study Bible Launched in Ghana
United Bible Societies
Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Africa Study Bible Launches Worldwide Celebratory Events Planned throughout Africa and in the United States

New Testament in Tera Language Launched in Nigeria
Nigerian Tribune
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Nigerian Deaf Find Hope in Scripture
MNN

Nigerian Police Adopt Holy Bible as Spiritual Weapon
New Telegraph

Exhibit of Biblical Artifacts Visits Hong Kong
Patterns of Evidence

Portland-Auburn, Maine: The Most Post-Christian City in the Top 100 Media Markets in America
Barna Group
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Did You Know the Saying “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” Isn’t in the Bible?

While discussing God’s relationship to people and their circumstances, a friend quoted a phrase many people assume is in the Bible:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

He isn’t alone: one in 8 Americans believe the Bible not only teaches this, but that it says this, too.

And yet if you went searching for it in the book of Proverbs or in the sayings of Jesus, you’d be out of luck—it’s nowhere in the Bible. In fact, the Bible says and teaches the exact opposite!

So if it’s not in the Bible, where’d it come from? And what does the Bible say instead?

Benjamin Franklin Offers God’s Help to Those Who Help Themselves

God helps those who help themselves by Ben FranklinAlthough he didn’t invent it, Benjamin Franklin is generally held to have popularized this motto in his Poor Richard’s Almanac. Here’s how it appears in the 1757 edition:

…let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us. “God helps them that help themselves,” as Poor Richard says, in his almanac of 1733.

While this may sound superficially like the kind of proverb you might hear from a committed Christian, Franklin was a deist. He didn’t believe in a personal God who is actively involved in the affairs of people, but rather in a God who set the world in motion but stands at a distance while we fend for ourselves.

So not only is this motto not in the Bible, it wasn’t popularized by someone who was committed to the historic Christian faith and the Bible’s teachings on God’s character.

Aesop Promises Help from the Gods When We Help Ourselves

God helps those who help themselves in AesopThe real origin of the motto probably lies in ancient Greece, when the storyteller Aesop wove the proverb into one of his tales:

A WAGGONER was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. “O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,” quoth he. But Hercules appeared to him, and said:

“Tut, man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel.

“The gods help them that help themselves.”

Though this catchy slogan sounds like something from the Bible’s book of Proverbs, its origin is likely in Aesop’s fables (or in ancient proverbs that inspired them).

The Quran Promises Allah’s Help After We Change Ourselves

While this motto isn’t in the Bible, a variation of it can be found in another religious text: the Quran. The Quran’s Ar-Ra’d 13:11 reads:

Indeed Allah will not change the conditions of a population until they change what is in themselves.

In this passage, the Quran expects a person to help himself by changing his own attitude and behavior before God will come to his aid. The principle is the same as that in Aesop’s proverb: those who expect divine help must first get the ball rolling themselves.

What Does the Bible Say Instead?

Whatever its origin, this popular motto doesn’t reflect what the Bible teaches. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of biblical teaching!

For example, the Old Testament book of Proverbs teaches that relying on ourselves, rather than on the wisdom of God, is foolhardy:

Those who trust in themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

If we can’t trust ourselves, then what hope do we have? Fortunately, the Bible has an answer. The prophet Isaiah declares that God helps those who are utterly helpless:

You have been a refuge for the poor,
   a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
   and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
   is like a storm driving against a wall (Isaiah 25:4)

God provides tangibly for those who are helpless and needy. God helps those who can’t help themselves. And who does the Bible consider helpless? Everyone! “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible tells us:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
   there is no one who understands;
   there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
   they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
   not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12)

When it comes to our greatest need—rescue from sin and death—there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. All have turned from God; all have sinned. We are utterly unable to find true spiritual peace through our own efforts. Thankfully, that is where God comes in:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8)

Christ’s death is the solution to the problem of sin and death that we can’t solve on our own. It’s tempting to think that we might be able to help ourselves out of even this predicament, but the Bible clearly teaches that there’s nothing we can do on our own to find salvation.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Our help comes from God alone, and it happens when we turn our lives over to him in faith, trusting in the work of Christ on the cross. This isn’t something we work for; and there’s certainly nothing we can change about ourselves to make us worthy of God’s help. Instead, we are saved by the passionate, undeserved love of God. It’s his gift to us!

So the next time you hear someone say “God helps those who help themselves,” remind them what the Bible says instead: God helps those who can’t help themselves.

That means you, me… and the world.

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New Email Devotions for Women—Sign Up Today!

What does it look like to be a woman of God who thrives in today’s world? We’ve just added two new free email devotions for women!

These short, inspiring devotions explore the challenges and opportunities women face in integrating their faith into family, careers, and relationships. You can sign up for either or both at our Devotionals for Women page. Here’s what’s new:

  • 9 Key Women in the Bible: Each day of this devotional provides a different glimpse of life in the ancient world. Over nine days, this devotional looks at the problems faced by the extraordinary women of the Bible—and how they solved them through God’s grace and providence.
  • Wisdom for Women: From social media to social justice, this six-day devotional offers wisdom for modern women whose lives look much different than those in the days of Jesus or Ruth.

These new devotional experiences join Encouragement for Today, Girlfriends in God, and other devotionals that offer insight for mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. You can see more of them at our Devotionals for Women page (and of course, many of the other offerings in our newsletter library are perfectly relevant to women, too).

If you’re a woman who could use some help integrating your faith with your busy everyday life, sign up for one of these free devotionals today!

Devotions for women

More Than Beautiful Poetry

By Shauna Shanks

Editor’s Note: Wrecked by the news from her husband of an affair and a request for a divorce, Shauna Shanks shares the beginnings of her courageous journey to save her marriage in this except from her new book, A Fierce Love.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:13

Finally, in desperation, I pleaded with God, “Please just give me one thing I can focus on! Just one word. Too many thoughts are ransacking my brain and I need to be calm and sleep.” I had to get up with the kids in just a few short hours and I knew if I didn’t sleep I would be exhausted all the next day. Maybe if I could focus on one word my mind would stop racing. “Give me something, God, anything.”

God gave me two words.

Endure. Hope.

Immediately my mind went to 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter. I never would have gone there on my own. It sounded too cliché to me, too recitable. It’s the chapter that is always read during wedding ceremonies. It seemed very common and overused. I grew up a church kid. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights, and any time the doors were open, my family was there. Us kids were even in Bible clubs where we were given prizes for memorizing popular Bible verses. So when I say I knew those verses, I knew those verses. I know how to love, for goodness’ sake. That’s too simple. Elementary.

Nevertheless, I was grateful for those words and for something to focus my attention toward. Immediately, I looked up the word endure. To endure means to suffer patiently. Deep breath. Relief.

Okay. I can do that. It doesn’t sound fun, though. Especially since historically, “patiently” in God-years can mean forty years wandering around in the desert! Still, at least it’s clear direction. It’s something to do. I am thankful for that. I can wait. I can endure.

It’s the hoping that will be the challenge. Hope. Hope is believing for a desired outcome. This outcome over which I have no control. Micah has made up his mind about me. I have been cut out. Like a dog that feels the hard blow of his owner’s boot. It is setting in. I am being tossed aside and thrown away. “I am leaving you,” he said. “I don’t love you,” he stated.

What if I hope and it never comes to pass? To keep hoping means to stay vulnerable. It keeps my heart soft when I’d rather it be hard and scab over. Then you can move on. I’d rather it heal and not be this raw, open, gaping wound.

Hope. Such a daunting thing to do when faced with such bleakness. I will work on that one, I vowed. After all, I only had two things to work on.

An amazing thing had happened, but in the trenches of my despair, I didn’t recognize the miracle. I was so desperate to have something to hold onto that I reacted to the words he spoke, but I failed to pause and rejoice in the simple fact that God was speaking. It was amazing. But what was truly a wonder, and what hadn’t happened much of my whole adult life, was that God was speaking, and I heard him.

I had been notorious for doing things and making decisions on my own and then asking God to bless those decisions. I didn’t understand people who prayed and asked God for direction and then felt confident they had heard him. But my ability to hear God began that night without my even knowing it. In the desperate days and weeks ahead, I would come to depend on these words as the source of my life. God would continue to give me clear direction and never leave me alone.

I made a decision that first night not to love based on feelings. Feelings, as I had learned, can change with the wind, with the seasons. But love. It perseveres.

I was to continue to love Micah, taking any love I had been receiving from him out of the equation. That love had been replaced by betrayal, harsh and damaging words, and emotional abandonment. When faced with those things, God took me back to 1 Corinthians 13. There it is. Do this.

God’s love is described in those verses, and he instructed me to love his way, not any way I was used to, and not based on feelings. There in those verses were written instructions that I could refer back to over and over again. I paused at every word and reflected on what it would look like for me if lived out this love as described.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4–8).

I replayed all the words I had read over and over in my mind. It is not jealous. Or rude. It is not provoked. It doesn’t take delight in wrongdoing but rejoices when the truth is spoken. It protects. Love bears all things, believes all things. Endures all things. Love never fails. It Does. Not. Fail.

Only because of the state I was in did I begin to understand the enormity of the challenge in these Scriptures. To fully absorb God’s message, I read the chapter over and over in every version I could find, including the Amplified Bible, “Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. . . . Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. . . . Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end] (1 Cor. 13:5, 7–8 AMPC).

My goodness, this love is beautiful. It is perfect. Is it possible? It must be, because God said it. And he had it written down. And he spoke it to me. I clung to these words. I wanted my husband back. God’s way seemed like the way to go for me. The only way.

I was soon to discover that 1 Corinthians 13 was more than beautiful poetry.

________

A Fierce LoveTaken from A Fierce Love: One Woman’s Courageous Journey to Save Her Marriage by Shauna Shanks. Click here to learn more about this title.

A Fierce Love is the story of a train wreck and reaching out to God not in the calm but in the chaos and finding hope for the future.

Wrecked with news of her husband’s affair and his request for a divorce, Shauna Shanks finds herself urgently faced with a decision. Does she give up and divorce her husband and move on, or does she try to fight for her marriage? The former choice seems to contradict God’s plan for how to love, such as “love never gives up,” “love is patient,” and “love is kind.”

Taking God at His word and assuming the love chapter was really meant to be followed literally word by word, she not only finds herself falling in love with her spouse again, but also falling in love with Jesus, which changes everything.

This book is not air-brushed. It was written in the midst of the author’s deepest trauma, and she purposefully did not edit out her mistakes and failures during that season. This book will resonate with those of you who do not feel like the picture-perfect Christian woman with the fairytale life and marriage.

Shauna Shanks is a wife, mother, and entrepreneur. She started Smallfolk, a health food café, out of her passion for health and fitness. She graduated from Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, with a focus on world missions. Shauna and her husband, Micah, who is a police officer, have been married for more than a decade, and they live with their three boys on an Ohio farm.

Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation: An Interview with Robert J. Morgan

Robert J. MorganDo you long to deepen your intimacy with God? How can contemplating, visualizing, and personalizing the Bible help you find a sense of soul-steadying peace?

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Bible Gateway interviewed Robert J. Morgan (@robertjmorgan) about his book, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation: Find True Peace in Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2017).

[See the Scripture Engagement section on Bible Gateway]

What is the act of meditating and what does the Bible say about its importance?

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Robert J. Morgan: Biblical meditation is the habit of treasuring up God’s words and pondering them in our hearts. It’s grounded in daily Bible study; but when we leave our time of Bible reading, it’s important to take Scripture with us so we can mentally mull over it all day long. Meditation is pondering, picturing, and practicing Scripture. If I’m meditating on the Love Chapter of the Bible, for example, I quote verses from 1 Corinthians 13 to myself all day. If I need guidance, I preach Proverbs 3:5-6 to myself day and night. If I’m anxious, I keep rehearsing Philippians 4:4-6. Meditation is the portable habit of training the mind to think about Scripture passages in every spare moment, in times of both tension and relaxation.

How does transcendental meditation differ from biblical meditation?

Robert J. Morgan: Biblical meditation is not transcendental meditation. It’s transformational meditation, for Romans 12 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which happens as we ponder and practice Scripture. Transcendental meditation seeks to relax the body by emptying the mind and the muscles of stress. Many transcendentalists repeat a phrase over and over to divert the mind from other thoughts. While there’s value in deep breathing and muscle relaxation, biblical meditation isn’t a matter of emptying the mind but of filling it with Scripture.

When I meditate, I think about passages of Scripture with which I’m familiar. Yesterday, for example, I had a long flight from California. When my eyes got tired, I closed them and thought of Joshua 1:8-9, letting that passage cycle through my mind over and over. To me, biblical meditation is a much better answer for stress than transcendental meditation.

What makes it necessary for biblical mediation to be reclaimed?

Robert J. Morgan: To reclaim biblical meditation, we need three things:

(1) A determined time of daily Bible reading and study. We can’t practice biblical meditation without biblical content, and that requires being in Scripture.

(2) A Scripture memory plan. Every morning I spend a few minutes working on whatever verse I’m memorizing, and when I get that verse into my mind, I go to the next one. I recently learned Colossians 3:1-4 by heart, and now whenever I walk through the park I rehearse it to myself, rolling every word through my mind.

(3) A plan to train our minds to turn toward Scripture when they’re idle. If I wake up during the night, rather than allowing my mind to think about what’s fretting me, I should instantly begin quoting Colossians 3:1-4, or some other passage. Biblical memorization and meditation has become the most helpful habit I’ve ever discovered.

You say biblical meditation is not thinking about Scripture, but thinking Scripture. Explain.

Robert J. Morgan: I’m grateful for the Bible study tools at our disposal and for all the devotional aids. But good spiritual nutrition doesn’t depend on reading a devotional thought or finding a good insight from a commentary, helpful though those may be. It comes as we quote and read and think about the undiluted words of Scripture itself. If I face a difficult challenge that threatens me, there’s no substitute to saying to myself: “God is our refuge and strength, an every-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46:1-2).

What happens to our minds as we think Scripture?

Robert J. Morgan: We’re made new in the attitude of our minds (Ephesians 4:23). As we meditate on God’s Word we begin thinking his thoughts. The Bible says our thoughts are not his thoughts; for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are his thoughts above ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). There’s wisdom from above and wisdom from below (James 3:15-17). Left to ourselves, our intellects are lacking; our thinking is distorted, inadequate, and short-sided. But God’s thoughts are eternal, true, wise, and always correct in their perspective.

He sent down his thoughts to us in his Word (Isaiah 55:10-11), and as we memorize and meditate on Scripture we begin thinking increasingly as God does. We begin seeing things from his point of view. When we look at the situations of life through the lens of Scripture, we begin seeing things in Scriptural terms and our minds are God-conditioned.

How can a person train his mind so that Scripture “constantly circulates”?

Robert J. Morgan: Here’s how I do it. Every morning I spend some time in Bible reading and prayer, and during that time I take about five minutes to work on a verse I’m memorizing. I usually memorize consecutive verses in a passage. I don’t rush the process, but over time I’ve been able to memorize many paragraphs of Scripture. Then I find moments during the day when I can let these verses circulate through my mind like oil through a machine.

Sometimes, if I feel a wave of fatigue sweep over me, I’ll stretch out on the sofa for a few minutes and silently quote these Scriptures. As we wait on the Lord, our strength is renewed. It’s especially helpful to fall asleep at night while pondering a particular verse. In time, our minds learn to use Scripture as their default setting. The Holy Spirit has something to do with that, and true peace and wisdom come as the Spirit within us uses the Word within us to transform us.

How does biblical meditation fit in with the biblical mandate to “fear not”?

Robert J. Morgan: I’m fearful by nature; I have issues with anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my fears to the Bible and found fortifying verses, which I’ve claimed and clung to. One of the first verses I learned as a child was Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Sometimes in a moment of worry, I simply quote that verse over and over, not as a mantra but as a way of pounding it more deeply into my heart and mind.

What are some techniques you recommend?

Robert J. Morgan: I have a small loose-leaf notebook in which I keep my Bible memory passages. When I choose a passage to memorize, I print it on its own page in pen and ink from the translation I like best, and I work on it a phrase at a time. This is a lifetime project. I hope to be adding verses as long as I live. We also have to create some quiet zones in our lives. Our electronics have robbed us of leisure spaces between tasks, but we have to take back some of that space. I’ve learned that taking five minutes here or there to walk in the garden or sit on the swing and quote Scripture is like a shot of B-66 to my system.

What should be the result of biblical mediation in a person’s life?

Robert J. Morgan: Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Robert J. Morgan: If you were to walk into my office almost anytime, you’d see Bible Gateway on the side monitor of my computer. I love being able to reference any Bible verse from any translation so quickly and easily.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Robert J. Morgan: We’ve created a free downloadable study guide for Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation so it can be used for group studies. The book itself is inexpensive, and the study guide is free. But I believe the practice of biblical meditation is the missing link in Bible study, lesson development, and sermon preparation—and I want to change that. In this age of incredible stress, it would be of utmost help for every one of us to reclaim the lost art of biblical meditation.


Bio: Robert J. Morgan is the teaching pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s served for more than 30 years. The author of Then Sings My Soul: The Story of Our Songs—Drawing Strength from the Great Hymns of Our Faith, he’s a bestselling and Gold-Medallion-winning author with more than 35 books in print and more than 4 million books in circulation. His products in electronic and audio format number hundreds of thousands. He’s also a staff writer for Dr. David Jeremiah and Turning Points Ministries. Rob’s books have been translated into multiple languages, and he has appeared on many national television and radio programs. He and his wife, Katrina, reside in the Opryland area of Nashville and in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. They have three daughters and 14 grandchildren.

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Living History: Explore the Culture and History Behind Famous Bible Stories in Our New Devotional

Explore bible culture with our new devotionalYou’ve heard many Bible stories hundreds of times. But as those stories have become more and more familiar, what background details might you be missing?

Christians believe that reading and understanding the Bible requires no special knowledge of history. But while that’s true, it’s also true that many familiar Bible stories take on fresh meaning when we understand the cultural context in which they occurred.

Our new devotional Living History: Exploring Biblical Cultures will introduce you to the fascinating world of biblical history and culture. In the course of seven daily devotions, you’ll explore questions like:

  1. What did early Christians understand about the “mark of the beast” mentioned in Revelation?
  2. What was unusual about David’s famous battle against Goliath?
  3. How was Yahweh dramatically different from the commonly-worshipped pagan gods of the Old Testament world?

Living History: Exploring Biblical Cultures is completely free, runs for one week, and begins as soon as you sign up. Sign up for Living History and find answers to these and other fascinating questions about the biblical world!

Perfect for Visual Learners: the NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible

Buy your copy of NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

The NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible (Zonderkidz, 2017) (@Zonderkidz), for ages 8–12, brings the Bible to life in four-color illustrated splendor. This study Bible includes a spectacular full-color interior featuring over 700 illustrations, photos, infographics, and maps on every page that visually represent key Bible information. Each page also features important facts located near the relevant verse. Intriguing facts; colorful, engaging maps; photographs; and illustrations make this a Bible they’ll want to explore.

Buy your copy of NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day            Buy your copy of NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible Imitation Leather, Bronze in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day            Buy your copy of NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible Imitation Leather, Teal in the Bible Gateway Store where you'll enjoy low prices every day

Features of the NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible:

  • Over 700 four-color photographs, illustrations, infographics, and maps throughout
  • Full-color design
  • Book introductions, including important facts and an image to orient the reader
  • One-column format with side bar study notes for ease of reading
  • Presentation page
  • The complete text of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible
  • Beautiful cover featuring gloss
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