"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled..." ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands..." ~ II Tim. 1:6

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Occupying Your God-Given Space:  Humility in a Self-Esteem World

What first comes to mind when you think of humility?

Is it a dejected stance?  Minimizing your role in something?  Or maybe a timid attitude, avoiding eye contact and feeling inferior?

In today’s self-obsessed society, humility gets a bad rap.  And that’s partially just due to the nature of the society we live in, but it’s also because humility is deeply misunderstood.

I’d never given this topic particular thought until I landed on this devotional in my bible app, and something clicked for me.

“Have you ever been humbled by nature? Have you ever walked through a field of tulips or watched a sunset and been reminded of how incredibly awesome God is and how small you are by comparison?  It’s humbling.  The Hebrew word anavah is what we translate as “humility”, but the literal definition of anavah is to occupy your God-given space in the world—not to overestimate yourself or your abilities, and to not underestimate them either.” (quoted from the devotional on YouVersion/Bible.com)

This really brought humility to life in a way that I’d never considered before, and caused me to want to dig even further into humility in the bible.  Note, the original devotion uses “avanah”, but throughout my research I can only find it spelled “anavah” from the root anav, so that’s what I’m using throughout this study because I think it was just a typo.

There are several Hebrew words that can be translated as “humble” or “humility”.  This one comes from the root anav, which denotes a condition of character—depending on God due to internal, spiritual orientation rather than external factors.  The root of this word also indicates that relying on God is a choice, not merely because you physically have to.

Humility and meekness are closely related, but I’m not getting into meekness here because it’s a big study in its own right, and one I intend on doing.  They come from the same root word and the two are sometimes used interchangeably in the bible, but there are some nuances in meaning that are worth exploring.  To my mind, meekness is more expressed toward others, whereas humility is more inward—how you think about and see yourself.  But they’re two sides of the same coin.

Humility in the bible 

As is always the truth, we can learn a lot about the word itself and God’s attitude toward humility (and anavah in particular) by looking at how it’s used in the holy scriptures.

Anavah (H6038) is strongly associated with the fear of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, and seen as something that comes from wisdom and leads to honor.

The Analogy of Sin as a Virus…and Repentance as Radical Transformation

A while back I was reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, a non-fiction book about a particular moment in the history of medical ethics, scientific discovery, and race.  I ran across this sentence and for whatever reason it stuck in the back of my mind.

“Viruses reproduce by injecting bits of their genetic material into a living cell, essentially reprogramming the cell so it reproduces the virus instead of itself.” ~ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

A picture of Satan trying to do exactly that came to mind, and the more I thought on it, a virus seemed to be a fairly apt analogy to sin’s effect on us.  But once I started researching it a little more, I found that the analogy of sin as a virus was way closer than I originally thought.  So this study explores some of those shared characteristics.

There are two things that probably need stated before we dig in here:  I am not a scientist, and this analogy is not perfect.  All analogies start to fall apart when you dig *too* deeply regardless, but since I’m not a scientist that may be especially true here.

The other thing that feels like it must be stated is that, unlike actual viruses which attack us through no fault of our own, we are complicit when it comes to sin.  It is our hearts that are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 14:12).  So though Satan certainly attacks us and helps us along, we should not read this analogy as one in which we play a passive victim role.

Regardless, I think this is interesting and valuable food for thought.

The analogy of sin as a virus

“…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12)

It’s important to understand a few things about viruses that start to give our analogy to Satan and sin greater depth.

Viruses come in all shapes and sizes, from the common cold to HIV.  The viruses themselves are all invisible, but with some it’s easy to see and diagnose the symptoms, and with others the host is a silent carrier with no outward symptoms.

Similarly, sins and their consequences take many different forms.  Some are overt and public (murder, theft), but more often they are not readily apparent to us or the people around us.  Many are subtle…a bit of anger, some work gossip to pass the time, too much time and attention spent on material things.  But when left alone, they continue to multiply…like the “little leaven that leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6).

Stand Still and Wait: Worldly Solutions vs. Waiting on God (Musings on Faith Series)

“You will not need to fight in this battle.  Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17)

Do you trust God?

This isn’t a trick question, and our gut response is “Yes, of course!”  But it’s actually a more complicated question (and answer) than it appears at face value, isn’t it?

We don’t have God literally talking to us every day, telling us what’s on His mind and what plans He has for us that day.  We want to involve Him in our decisions and understand His will, but it’s not always clear how involved He is in day-to-day details.

Does He want a say in every decision we make?  How much does He care about the daily “small stuff” versus the big picture?  Does He expect us to solve most of our own problems, or does He reward those who ask Him for help in every small issue?

More questions than answers, right…??  What I wanted to dig into in this study is how we approach “problem solving”, through the lens of some examples in the bible.  Do think about waiting on God and trusting that He has things under control, or do we seek out worldly, human solutions?

This is one of those studies that’s intended more to share thoughts and spur your own thinking, rather than provide a specific point of view or “how to”.  I’d consider it a combination of pointing out what can happen when we try to solve problems our own way and on our own timetable, and a meditation on the balance between relying on God and abdicating responsibility for our lives and decisions.  This is a longer one, but only because there are a number of examples provided for context.

“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…”

A lot of these questions ultimately boil down to trusting in God’s timing and approach rather than giving in to human reasoning, impatience, and impulsivity.

But that requires us to believe that God knows each of us personally, that He is in control, knows what we want (and need), and wants the absolute best for us.

And I think that last bit (that He wants the best for us) is actually much harder than it sounds to truly grasp.  It *sounds* completely logical, but when you’re in the middle of something and don’t see a good solution or understand why it’s happening, or when you want something so badly and don’t get it, that belief is a difficult thing to maintain.

There are many parts of the bible where God’s advice is effectively “be patient”.  Many times His people were told to stand still and wait for Him to act on their behalf.  Sometimes that was a literal physical command to stand there, but sometimes it referred more to their emotional state—just stop, don’t let your emotions run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling!”.

This is a topic I’ve been musing on for some time.  It’s not clear-cut, and there is almost never an easy answer when we’re right in the middle of a situation.  When something happens, what is your first instinct?  Where do you look for solutions?  How do you go about making decisions?

So I thought it would be good to show some examples from the bible of people who didn’t trust in God and figured out their own solutions (and how that turned out).  Then because I’m not all Debby Downer, I wanted to showcase some great examples of people who did wait, and looked to God to accomplish His purpose in His time.

And of course—because it’s me—I have some thoughts on practical applications for our own modern lives at the end for us to consider.

Worldly solutions to (real or perceived) problems

First we’ll look at some examples of when people decided to find their own solutions to problems that were either real, or that they perceived to be real.

It’s kind of sad how easy it is to think of examples for both of these areas…but to be fair, the bible is written for our instruction, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of cautionary tales in there.  Most of these are well-known stories, so I’m just going to highlight the important points rather than tell you the whole story.

These examples pretty much boil down to:  Do you trust God to take care of you and help solve your problems?

FOMO:  How To Derail Your Relationship With God

Or, the key to unhappiness…

We usually put the best of ourselves and our lives out on social media.  We talk about how amazing our spouse is, how cute our kids are, personal accomplishments, a delicious meal we cooked (or ordered), stunning vacation pictures.  And none of this is necessarily wrong—most people wouldn’t like to follow people who are super negative or just plain boring all of the time.

But we also know that what we’re showing are the most exciting bits of our life, our personal “highlight reel”.  That the mundane, overwhelming, and embarrassing parts of our life aren’t public.

We rarely trumpet that we’re stuck in traffic, sitting in a meeting, vegging on the couch, rocking a colicky baby in the middle of the night, the disaster of a kitchen after cooking, seething after an argument with your spouse, having to discipline your kid in the middle of a crowded grocery store, feeling like a failure because you messed up at work.

Though this is the majority of most people’s day, most of us don’t post about these things.  And the funny thing is, we know this about ourselves.  But our brains are a mysterious thing.  Somehow we can then look at everyone else’s social media life and forget that it is also a carefully curated museum of the best of their lives as well.  And in forgetting, we allow feelings of discontent to nestle into our brains and hearts.

A couple things happen as a result of this.  First, we tend to be concerned with making our lives *appear* amazing or glamorous.  And second, we tend to look at other people’s lives from the outside and unintentionally use that as a measuring stick for ourselves.

Living that FOMO life

There’s a condition that’s endemic to today’s technology-obsessed society.  It’s been dubbed “FOMO”—the “fear of missing out”.  And while FOMO has become slang that the younger generation casually drop in conversation for fun, it’s actually a much more pervasive aspect of our human nature that’s amplified by technology, and has the potential to derail our faith.

Studying Psalm 20:4 – Our Heart’s Desire and Accomplishing Our Plans

I ran across a verse in my daily bible reading that, while familiar, I’d never really considered carefully.  It’s short and lyrical, something you’d see printed on someone’s wall or in a greeting card, or even recited at a wedding.  Let’s look at the verse:

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose” (Psalm 20:4, NKJV)

It’s easy to skim this and think, “that’s lovely!” then keep moving.  But if taken at face value it would be easy to miss the verse’s intent—full of both promise and warning. 

Oftentimes, the words themselves can provide rich information, but the Hebrew words used in this verse are fairly run-of-the-mill and used all over the Old Testament.  They don’t appear to provide any additional insight, being quite broad and able to be interpreted a number of ways based on context.

Let’s look instead at the two separate pieces of Psalm 20:4.  My goal here isn’t an exhaustive study, but rather just highlighting a few deeper things to ponder.

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire…”

When the bible talks about the heart, it doesn’t just mean our emotions or feelings like we often think of today.  Instead it’s truly the core of who a person is.  And so when this verse talks about our “heart’s desire,” it’s not talking about every single thing we’ve ever wanted in life, every wish and fleeting craving.

It’s referring to our deepest desires and motivations, the thoughts that drive us, the things which occupy our minds.  It’s who we are at our rawest.  Jesus is very clear that the desires of our heart will be reflected in how we talk and act, and will be reflective of where our priorities in life lie (Matt. 12:34, 6:21).

The verse asks that God grant His people their desires…but we also know from Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  This feels like a worrying contradiction.  So what are we to do with this?

There’s another translation for Psalm 20:4 that a few bibles use, where it says, “May He grant you according to your heart”.  I quite like this translation, because it indicates a little bit more of the double-edged sword that this verse implies—if your heart isn’t right, what you get will not be right either.  It implies that you should be careful what you wish for (or subconsciously focus on), because you just might get it.

Eyes on the Horizon:  Navigating this Life

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.  Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established” ~ Prov. 4:25-26

A while back, I had the chance to spend a few days sailing off the coast of Sweden.  It was an idyllic off-the-grid weekend, and we had the opportunity to act as first mates to the boat’s captain, Patrik.

The first time I took my turn at the wheel, he gave me a point far out on the horizon to aim for (a tiny white speck that ended up being a lighthouse) and then sat back to chill.  I steered for a while, but increasingly found myself staring intently at the small GPS screen, which had two lines—the one he’d charted and the one we were currently on.

Navigating this Life - example GPS from the boat

I was laser-focused, trying to keep our direction completely aligned with the course he had charted, making tiny adjustments, struggling to turn the right way and guess how the boat would react to the waves and wind.  The result was me zig-zagging through the water rather than smooth, straight sailing.  When he realized what I was doing, he corrected me.

“Don’t look down, look at the horizon.  That point I gave you out there, that is your goal—navigate by that.  Yes, look down every so often to check for rocks and obstacles, but down there shouldn’t be your focus.”

Perils while navigating this life

Why does this story stick with me, even a few years later?

First, it immediately brought to mind the statement in Hebrews 11 about how the faithful of God through the ages were focused on the promises they saw “afar off,” remaining intent on that vision of the future no matter what threatened them in the present.

Secondly, it made me consider the needs and impact of the immediate vs. the eternal, and how we should be balancing the two while navigating this life.  Make no mistake, we’re meant to actually live our time on this earth, which means we do have to give attention to “right now”.

But it’s also easy to get caught up in the daily grind, with all the negativity, what’s going wrong (or right), not understanding the direction of things or why things happen.  And if we spend too much time thinking about the immediate, it can cause us—ultimately—to lose sight of the eternal.  We’ll zig-zag through life, wasting energy and ending up slowly but surely off-course.

A Practical Approach to Worry & Anxiety in the Bible

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. ~ Swedish proverb

Worry.  Anxiety.  There are a lot of different words that can describe these types of feelings.  I tend to differentiate in that worries are specific—a presentation at work going poorly, a friend being offended by what I said—while I think of anxiety as a more generalized feeling of dread or fear.  That’s not necessarily scientific, just how my brain tends to separate them.  Personally, I’m more prone to the latter.  And while I wouldn’t consider myself a worrier, I do struggle with this on occasion—pretty much everyone does at some point.

There is a famous quote that says, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”  Intuitively we know that being anxious all the time isn’t healthy, and yet often it seems like we can’t help ourselves.

I thought it would be worth digging into the topics of worry and anxiety in the bible, to see how we should approach them—are we dealing with a true innate personality trait, or something we can and should overcome?  And then we’ll dive into some practical ways to apply this in our lives.

Read next:  Eyes on the Horizon: Tips For Navigating This Life

What does the bible say about worry and anxiety?

Actually, quite a lot.

Here are a handful of verses that get right to the heart of the bible’s take on worry and anxiety:

  • “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Prov. 12:25)
  • “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19)
  • “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25-34)
  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27)
  • “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7)
  • “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved [shaken]” (Ps. 55:22)
  • “And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42)
  • “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4)
  • “For what has man for all his labor, and for the anxious striving for which they labor under the sun?” (Eccl. 2:22; NIV)
  • “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties” (Ps. 139:23, NIV)

And these don’t even count the 100 or so times that we are commanded to “be not afraid” or “fear not”.   God clearly sees these topics as relevant to His people and worth addressing.

Read next:  Fear & Love Can’t Coexist (Musings on Faith)

How does worry affect us?

The word typically translated as worry or anxious in the New Testament is merimnao (G3309), and it simply means “to be anxious about”.  It’s translated “worry” in the New King James mostly, while the King James tends to prefer “take no thought for” or “do not care for”.  This word is what’s used in some of the more well-known verses on this subject, such as Matthew 6 and Philippians 4.  Let’s dig into that (lengthy) passage in Matthew for starters:

Becoming Strong, Useful Instruments In The Hands of a Master Blacksmith

“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined…we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment [abundance]” (Ps. 66:10-12)

There are many verses about God testing us and allowing us to go through trials.  Obviously in some cases, trials are of our own making, through poor decisions or sins.  But in many other cases, they seem to come out of nowhere, and it’s normal for us to wonder why, and what God’s intention is in allowing the trials.  Is it because He’s angry and wants to punish us?

Of course not.  God’s ultimate purpose is to make us into strong, useful instruments (James 1:2-3, I Pet. 1:6-7).  He has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the strong and wise, and so that those chosen don’t think it’s because of their own amazing capabilities (I Cor. 9:27-28).  But just because he selects us when we’re weak doesn’t mean we’re meant to stay that way.  Myriad verses make it clear that God is tearing us down and remaking us in His image (Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:24).

In Acts we read where Jesus told Ananias through a vision that Saul (Paul) would be “a chosen instrument (or vessel)” of His plan (Acts 9:15).  This is the same word used when Paul tells the Romans that the potter has “power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor” (Rom. 9:21).  So how does God make us into the strong instrument He is looking for?

A while back I read an article from a modern-day blacksmith talking about his craft, and for whatever reason, on that particular day the biblical analogies just jumped off the page at me and I had to dig further.

Removing impurities in the midst of fire

The first thing the blacksmith does is take a piece of metal and heat it in the fire until it’s almost translucent.  Or he might melt the metal down entirely to pour into a mold.  Both of these processes make the metal workable, but also illuminate the metal’s impurities or deficiencies.

The Feast of Tabernacles and the Fleeting Nature of Man

We live like we have unlimited time.  Even though we know better, this is human nature.

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe the fall holy days are really about us, as they picture God’s plan for reconciling the whole of humanity to Him (while the spring holy days are about the salvation of His called-out people).

The spring holy days are quiet, personal, intimate.  It’s about salvation on a one-to-one level, focused on inward change.  The fall holy days are about the whole of mankind, with dramatic and world-encompassing events that no one will be able to ignore.

We know that the Feast of Tabernacles pictures the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ on the earth.  His faithful saints will have been resurrected to eternal life, and God will begin reconciling the rest of the world to Himself.  So for those of us who understand God’s plan and are striving to be in that first group (the spring harvest), what should this holy day period mean to us on a personal level?

Dwelling in tents

Let’s look at the original command to keep the Feast, back in Leviticus:

“Speak to the children of Israel, saying: the fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord…when you have gathered in the fruit of the land…you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook: and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days…You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths [tents] when I brought them out of the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:34-43)

Why did God make the Israelites dwell in temporary dwellings during this time of rejoicing and feasting?   Yes, it’s a literal reminder of how the Israelites were made to wander for 40 years, living in tents in the wilderness and relying on God to sustain them before they could enter the Promised Land.  But we know that there’s a spiritual analogy here as well.

He commanded it to remind us of where we’re going.  Dwelling in tents during the Feast of Tabernacles is meant to remind us of the lack of permanence—the fleeting nature of mankind, of this life, of this world.  It also is meant to drive home our total reliance on God.

Ephemeral humanity

Several of David’s psalms dwell on the idea of humanity’s transience, how man is “like a breath…his days like a passing shadow” (Ps. 144:4).  He gets to the heart of why he’s focusing on this idea in Psalm 39:

Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.  Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but a breath.  Selah.  Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.  And now, Lord, what do I wait for?  My hope is in You.” (Ps. 39:4-7)

The book of Ecclesiastes explores this idea in-depth, making it a perfect pairing with the Feast of Tabernacles (the Jews traditionally read Ecclesiastes during the Feast).  At its heart, Ecclesiastes asks the reader:  What direction is your life headed in—toward man or toward God?

It starts (and ends) with the famous exclamation that “All is vanity!” and then Solomon goes on to talk about all the ways he tried to seek physical fulfillment, only to discover that it’s all emptiness.  That word translated “vanity” is hebel (H1892), used heavily in Ecclesiastes but more than 70 times throughout the Old Testament (including David’s Psalm 39).

The KJV/NKJV versions exclusively translate it as “vanity”, and other translations (like the NIV) use “meaningless” or “emptiness”, but none of these really captures the true meaning intended—it’s definitely not accurate to say that this life is meaningless.  Hebel is a notoriously tricky word to translate, but its true meaning is closer to “breath”, “vapor”, or “mist”.

Or in other words, insubstantial, temporary, and impossible to cling on to.

James cautioned his readers about this very thing, saying, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow.  For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).  The prophet Isaiah echoed a similar sentiment, likening flesh to grass that withers and fades (Is. 40:6-7).

Like the Israelites in the desert, God is showing us we are in temporary dwellings until He gives us a permanent habitation (“a body incorruptible”).  The apostle Peter, as he neared the end of his life, wrote of knowing his “tent must soon be folded up” (II Pet. 1:13-14; Moffatt version).

Do we see our lives—our bodies, our jobs, our houses—in this manner, as a flimsy covering that one day will abruptly be taken down?  Generally speaking, the way we focus on our houses, careers, and physical appearance would suggest not.  Paul also uses this analogy, telling the Corinthians, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands (II Cor. 5:1).

Being a Light in a Dark World

“The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1)

Light is one of the most prevalent themes throughout the entire bible, a thread that starts man’s journey on the physical earth and closes out the story in Revelation.

In the first few verses of Genesis, the very first thing God (the Word, Jesus Christ) does in recreating the earth is to bring physical light.

“The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:2-4).

Then, in the last few verses of the bible, John explains that after God has set up His kingdom and recreated a spiritual heaven and earth, that “they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light” (Rev. 22:5).  The physical celestial lights that God created for man in the current kosmos—sun, moon, and stars—are no longer necessary because we will have the Light with us and God’s glory will be all that is needed to see.

During His ministry, Jesus told His disciples (and us, by extension), “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16).  We’ve each probably read that verse a couple hundred times in our lives, and typically what I’ve heard said is that it’s about how we’re meant to live righteous lives and be examples of God’s way.  And that’s true.

But a message I heard at the Feast last year got me to thinking about the analogy a little differently, including various aspects of being a light—basically, what does that really mean and require of us?  After digging in somewhat, there are a few insights about light that helped me in seeing even deeper meaning to that verse in Matthew.  They’re not earthshattering revelations, but rather reminders that should enhance our understanding of the type of light we are meant to be.

Light illuminates

I know, that feels like a “duh” statement.

So maybe another way of putting it is that it reveals.

The Hebrew word that’s used in that very first Genesis verse referenced above (ore, H216) means illumination, bright, or clear.  In Jesus’s command in Matthew 5, the Greek word used (phos, G5457) also means to shine or make manifest (a.k.a. clear, plain, apparent).  Both imply an enlightening or uncovering of something that was there but hadn’t previously been seen or understood.

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