One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4 (ESV)

In my last post, “Living a Life That Becomes a Life Well-Lived,” I was sharing my thoughts on how to live now in such a way that our lives will have been lived well. David’s words here in Psalm 27 give us (me!) more clues about what this means: knowing what your “one thing” is going to be. David said that his “one thing” was to dwell in the house of the Lord, or as we might say now from our vantage place of being in Christ, to faithfully abide in the Lord Jesus. David said that he wanted to dwell in the Lord’s house so that he could:

  • Gaze upon the Lord’s beauty
  • Inquire of the Lord

I like the way that Pastor John Piper has often said in his teaching ministry, “Let your passions be single!” He’s speaking of a devoted and undistracted life, for and towards Jesus Christ, of making sure that our “one thing” is faithfulness to Jesus—abiding in Jesus as we love, know, and seek to obey his Word. When our “one thing” becomes a part of many things, or when our “one thing” is self, comfort, pleasure, or the affection and/or sexual attentions of other people, then we find ourselves living an anti-Psalm 27:4 that goes something like this:

One thing I have sought after and asked of the Lord, and that is,
‘Please leave me alone God!’ I mean, I want your attention but not now, okay?!
I want to build and nestle inside a home of my own making, where it feels good,
and no one bothers me about what I’m gazing at.
I’ll inquire of you, Lord, but later—okay?
I don’t mean to offend you, Lord, but I just need (fill in the blank) right now and you…
well, you just don’t seem as real as him/her/it/this.
I love you Lord, but I need him/her/it/this.

Sexual sin and disordered relational entanglements can be “one thing” that offers to us an instant payback of sexual and/or emotional pleasure, a comforting distraction that dulls and temporarily erases our inner pain and heartache. When our “one thing” isn’t Jesus, so many other things will rush in to fill the void, and entice, tantalize, seduce, woo, and offer to us a form of life. But it will be death in the end.

How do you focus on the true “one thing” of living fully for Jesus amid all the struggles of this life? I’d love to know what helps you do this.

Updated 5.16.2017

Lately I’ve been soberly pondering how to live now; I want to have lived a well-lived life at the end. One of the blessings of serving at a ministry like Harvest USA is growing in grace while being daily confronted in my work with the devastation of sexual sin. Our staff and I are honored (truly!) to be invited into the pain of men, women, couples, and parents, and to walk alongside them.

They are facing the wreckage, pain, and heartache as hurting Christians who, after a season of giving way to sin, are now turning back to Christ. As the grace and love of Jesus Christ floods into and awakens someone from the dulling and destructive impact of living in sexual sin, the road is both glorious and painful. Emotional affairs, random sexual hook-ups, feasting on the ugly and foul “banquet table” of pornography, enslaving and obsessive co-dependent relationships, and sexual sharing with one or more persons outside of marriage—these are the things we hear in our offices and our support groups daily.

It’s glorious to hear of the Lord’s rescue of women from temptation and sin, yet painful to watch them “wake up” and realize, “How did I end up here? How do I get out of here? How do I change?” It’s terribly sobering for me and causes me to shudder every so often, knowing that this woman, or this man, or this marriage got “here” by taking a lot of little steps over time. All these steps are ones that we choose, even while, in the moment of struggle, we may feel that they just “happened to me.”

Gospel hope and wisdom tells us, though, that a life well-lived is also the fruit of taking a lot of little steps in a given direction… over and over, day by day.

Recently some sobering confessions of secret sin were shared with me just as I had finished reading an autobiography of Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Congo from 1953-1973. I was also at that time beginning to read a biography of Charles Spurgeon, an amazing Bible teacher, preacher, and pastor from the 1800s. This woman and this man are two of my heroes of the faith, and their stories remind me that well-lived lives include suffering, ongoing battles against sin, and lots of seemingly little steps of obedience.

I also began to read and reflect upon Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, wondering how Paul arrived at a point where he could say towards the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).

I’m pretty sure that a part of the answer to this question is in knowing that a life well lived happens as we live each day and through each circumstance like Paul did: deciding in this moment to fight when confronted by temptation and sin; committing today to run the race and fix my eyes upon Jesus, surrendering in this situation to trust the Lord through faith, believing that his purposes are always good for me.

What do you think? Are there heroes of the faith in your life? Who do you look up to, and what are the daily or habitual faith steps they took that bore the fruit of a life well-lived? No one walks this life of faith alone. God has given us a “cloud of witnesses” to show us how to live well.

Updated 5.4.2017

You know, there’s a lot at stake as we live this one, short, earthly life. Speaking at 2012 The Gospel Coalition Women’s conference, John Piper shared thoughts from Isaiah 6. John spoke about the power of gazing upon the Lord, to know our glorious Jesus as the one who is exalted and holy, yet who has come near to us so that we can have a taste of his majesty. Too often, we have a view of God which is way, way too small! To miss him is to spend the fleeting life we have been given on what is fleeting and passing away.

Seventy-five years from now, none of us will regret the decisions we made which flowed from love for Jesus. If we have gotten a taste of the majesty of God, then we will delight to give glory to God in who we are and what we do. We will not regret the ‘inconvenient’ and painful obedience that faith demands; the courageous confrontation and turning away from our favorite idols; the letting go of even good gifts that may not be what God has for us; living in singleness, which leaves a dull and painful ache at times; being faithful to our spouse in a tough marriage; or persevering in love toward wayward and rebellious children.

Many women I’ve gotten the privilege to journey with have become tripped up in their calling to be “glory givers” because their view of God was too small. A small view of God makes other people become big—bigger than they should be in our lives. We become hungry for them, and we feast at the banquet table of emotional cravings. That’s certainly been true in my own life. A growing worship and awe of our Lord Jesus leads me away from people idolatry to truly loving others, rather than using, being controlled by, or obsessing over them.

The Holy One upon the throne, so beautifully described in Isaiah 6, isn’t meant to drive you to a fearful retreat from a Holy God! No, this throne is owned by the Grace Giver, who is glorious and who welcomes needy, robbers of glory like you and me! We come to this throne “receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV). Read Isaiah 6 in the context of the mercy of Jesus Christ for you, and prayerfully examine your life to see how mercy shapes your life for him.

Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

How is God calling you to be a living sacrifice for his glory? For his purposes? How is he inviting you to love him by letting go of an unholy relationship that is eclipsing the Lord’s presence in your life? How is he inviting you to fix your gaze on him rather than trying to figure out how obedience will “work” in your favor? How is he calling you to courageously confess to a friend regarding your online addictions?

Updated 5.8.2017

Paige Benton Brown spoke at the 2012 The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference from 1 Kings 8 and gave a rich exhortation concerning how we do or do not reveal that we are the temple of God. As Paige phrased the question, “Do we have a quality of ‘templeness’ within us?” In her talk, Paige was actually one of the two women I heard who did apply her message to sexual sin in women. She brought out the challenging but rich calling that we all have to be the home of the Lord:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV).

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not our own to do with them whatever we please. This is a powerfully counter-cultural message, especially when the spirit of our age proclaims individual autonomy and self-expression as the core foundation of our identities.

Sisters, when we attach ourselves romantically to our female friends; when we relate sensually to one another physically and perhaps even sexually; when we chat sexually with others with our mouths, texts, and keyboards; and when we are sexual with ourselves or anyone who is not our husband, we are failing to give glory to Jesus, our King, Savior, Healer of our hearts, and Lord of our bodies. We are in fact being sexually ‘insane’ if we pursue self-expression and autonomy from God. Such an attitude reveals a deceived and rebellious heart that demands to do what I want, when I want, and with whom I want.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of God? Will you not treat yourself and your body as God sees you? Will you allow Jesus to rein you in to himself with love and kindness and to rule over your desires, fears, relationships, and sexuality?

Why would you want to do that? Because you were bought with a high price, the life of Jesus himself, so that you could live in the glorious freedom and beauty of being the woman God calls you to be.

To develop these ideas further and glorify God with your sexuality, check out one of Harvest USA’s mini books, Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart, which is available in the Harvest USA bookstore. Also, we have a curriculum for women who are struggling sexually, called Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing for Relational and Sexual Brokenness. This resource was written to assist you in delving more deeply into the hope and redemptive ‘sanity’ that the gospel of grace promises to us in our relational and sexual brokenness! Visit the Harvest USA Online Store to take a look at our resources.

Updated 5.8.2017

How many of us have responded to trials by figuratively shaking our fists at God and saying, “This isn’t fair!” Or, maybe just tearfully crying out to him, “No, Lord, I don’t want this…I can’t handle it…it’s too much.” I have, on more than a few occasions, done both. Contentment and trust in the Lord are like the waves that crash in from the ocean.

They wash over me as I fix my faith upon him, and then, as the waves slowly recede, I look away from him and get ‘caught’ in the “snare of the compare.”

At The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference in June 2012, Carolyn Mahaney gave a great talk on this subject of comparing ourselves with what God brings into the lives of others. She spoke on John 21, focusing on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter on the beach. After being told of the painful death he would one day endure, Peter’s response to Jesus echoes what so many of us would say: “But Lord…what about this man (referring to John)?” (v. 21). Jesus’ response was the most loving and caring thing he could have said: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (v.22).

I’ve heard so many relationally and sexually broken women express this same kind of struggle: “Lord, why does this temptation of being attracted to other women persist? Why won’t you just remove it completely? Father, why didn’t you allow me to learn of my husband’s porn struggles before we got married? Why do my friends all seem to have happy, sexually whole marriages—and I don’t?

While we live on this earth, we may receive some of the answers to the questions that arise from our hurting and confused hearts. Other questions, however, will remain unanswered. This may feel unendurable in our information-saturated culture, where we seek for and demand quick answers. Yet the most loving, helpful counsel isn’t to have every nitty-gritty detail made available, but rather to hear and reflect on what Jesus said to Peter: “You follow me.”

Yes, to follow hard after Jesus, to be fixed upon him and to let him lead, instruct, teach, and counsel us (Psalm 32:8) through our valleys, temptations, heartaches, and pain. When we are faced with circumstances we don’t want and which are out of our control, Jesus calls us to trust of him. This is faith, expressed in love (Galatians 5:6), and it will look different from woman to woman. Living with unanswered questions is one way the Lord draws us to trust in his heart for us.

What would be some ways to live this out?

• Resolving daily to follow Jesus, and to receive the losses which will come from having to refuse influences which tempt you          towards emotional and sexual lust
• Letting go of or allowing significant space between you and a friend in a relationship that has become life-consuming for you
• Courageously and humbly seeking help from others for your marriage when the pain from your husband’s sexual sin is so              overwhelming
• Confessing to a sister in Christ or a spiritual leader that you are ensnared in sexual sin and that you can’t battle it on your own    anymore—you need help!

What Peter couldn’t understand when Jesus commanded him to follow him at all costs was that soon the Spirit of Jesus would be sent into his soul. It is the Spirit, living within us, that gives us constant communion with Christ, enabling his grace to do its work within us, to follow and obey.

Will you say this to him now? “Yes, Jesus, I will follow you today, and not look behind, or to my right or left, or seek to compare myself to others in their walk with you. I will allow you to do your unique work within me, as I make my home in you.”

Updated 5.8.2017

In June 2012, I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference in Orlando, FL, with 3800 women from across the USA and from other countries. Many more women also listened in via a live web stream, adding another 1200 or so women to the attendance.

The theme of the conference was “Here is Our God,” and speakers unfolded Scripture with passion and vision, helping us to see the treasure of Jesus and God’s Word to all of us. The entire conference is available online for free on The Gospel Coalition’s website. I encourage anyone to listen for excellent teaching from the Bible.

There was, however, one disappointing reality about the conference that disheartened me as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA and as Ellen, a woman needy of God’s grace and truth for my own brokenness. I’m referring to the fact that, in the course of the eleven talks I attended, I heard only two very brief comments related to sexuality. Both of these were just a quick phrase or sentence that mentioned an aspect of sexual brokenness with which women struggle. In other words, in the eleven talks which constituted about 660 minutes of Bible teaching and application, there were only ten seconds’ worth on how the gospel of grace intersects with the sexual brokenness of women!

Ten seconds?! Hear me out: I’m not disparaging TGC or the Women’s Conference; but this void spoke loudly to me, and I’m assuming it also communicated something to the thousands of other women who were listening. Perhaps many were hoping, praying, wondering if our God and his Word had anything to say to those who have quickly become addicted to the new craze of “mommy porn?” Or if there is any gospel hope for women who are in emotional and sexually broken relationships, with men or women? Or if there is grace for the woman in a marriage scarred by serial adultery and a husband who is addicted to porn?

I want to assure you, if you are a woman in any of these circumstances, that there is much gospel hope, grace, and truth for you! I actually met with one such woman in my office two weeks after the conference, who stopped by our Harvest USA display table at the conference to get more information.

Join me for the next few blog posts as I apply the rich teaching I heard from this conference, to the relational and sexual brokenness of women! Jesus said, “[The Father] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV). Jesus, our God, promises this to all women—including daughters of God who are heavy and ache with the pain, shame, and fear associated with sexual sin.

Has this been your experience, that you never hear pastors or Christian leaders talk about sexuality? Do you feel, as I do, that you need good biblical information on this in order to walk with sexual integrity?

Updated 5.8.2017

Happy Friday!

Did you fast last weekend? How did it go? I fasted from checking and writing email. Why?

When I’m feeling lonely or disconnected from people, going online to check my email or checking my phone for text messages is what I do to have my heart soothed and comforted (that is, if I hear from anyone!). But when I reflect on why I do this so frequently, I realize that I am not going to the Lord for my comfort.

When I turn from the Lord to something else in order to pursue life, comfort, security, value, feeling loved etc., this is when I have fed the temptation rather than starved it. I’ve found that a common thread in the hearts of women who become ensnared in sexual sin of any type is the emotional pain they feel. That pain must be soothed, denied, or escaped from at any cost, and it is through sexual encounters, a fantasy life, or emotionally entangled friendships that the pain is soothed and calmed—for a time.

But when we move in that direction, it comes at a cost. What we feed on grows. What is growing in our lives becomes the focus of our lives. Will that focus lead to Christ-likeness or to a deeper enslavement to my sin patterns?

One initial step for you to grow in Christ-likeness, rather than in patterns of sin, is to think about the following:

1)     Can you name the desires in your heart that seem to rule over you? Desires can be holy or evil, depending on the motive of our heart.

2)     Can you identify the paths you walk in order to soothe those desires? This connects with the ‘fasting’ exercise I mentioned in my last blog post. What we can’t give up for a week, a day, or an hour may be something we are using as a way to feed and nurture sinful desires.

3)     Take one passage of Scripture and reflect daily on the passage that you have chosen, meditating on the qualities listed that you want to see growing in your life. Let me suggest one of three: 2 Peter 1:1-11, Galatians 5: 22-26, or Colossians 3:1-12, as these are passages that describe qualities of Christ-likeness. Focus on Christ first, not your sin that must be done away with.

4)     Find a ‘safe’ person to pray for you and help you think through how you can develop ongoing habits that will nurture your soul in Jesus and starve out your flesh. A safe person is someone who consistently lives a life of following Christ, is honest about their own struggles, is self-controlled with her mouth, can listen with wisdom, and can speak words of grace and truth back to you.

These are just some initial steps to take. Are there other things you’ve found in your spiritual journey that have been helpful as you’ve sought to turn from temptation?

Updated 5.10.2017

If we want to ‘starve out’ our specific areas of temptation to sin, let’s not miss the thing we so obviously need: to know what they are! What immediately comes to your mind: Do you obsessively hop onto Facebook to stalk certain people? Do you casually cruise over to websites that are “borderline” pornographic?

Do you pop into chat rooms to “just” talk, but you know you’ll soon be exchanging sexually graphic messages? What books, music, and movies arouse your senses in ways that lead you to sexual arousal and self-gratification? Whose verbal affection and/or touch, whether guy or girl, is something that you feel you can’t live without?

Sisters, the above scenarios (and hundreds of other specific things that may have come to your mind) really aren’t the main things that need to be starved out. They are the fruit or manifestations of deeper, more profound heart-temptations that are within you. To starve them out, you must go below the surface sin struggle and get delve into what you are craving. Are you desperately lonely and seeking companionship? Are you sad and brokenhearted and seeking to feel comfort—even just a drop of attention or affection from someone? Are you bored with life and just want to feel alive? All of these are very specific areas of pain and struggle and longing for which Jesus must be your covering, your comfort, your heart’s clothing.

Here are some diagnostic questions to ask of your heart:

1).        What activities, people, habits, or commitments are a part of your daily life? Some of mine are my cell phone and texting, my computer and checking email, my French Press and coffee.

2).        How long can you go without any of the things you just listed?

3).        What kinds of feelings surface when you “fast” from these things for an hour? Half a day? An entire day?

The feelings that surface when we fast from any regular or habitual activity (anything that we feel we “have to do” and suspect may have a hold on us) will help us to discover root causes to our temptations and sin struggles. Try to fast this weekend from one thing you came up with in question #1, and jot down the feelings that surface during that fasting period. I’m going to fast from checking and writing email, so I’ll join in on this.

What will you fast from? What do you think your heart will display? What will you learn about the heart within you that drives what you do?

Updated 5.10.2017

Today, I want to share more thoughts on living in light of Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV).

If we’re going to be women who resist the pull of our flesh towards sexual temptations and relational idols, and grow as daughters of God who make no provision to invite temptation to lurk nearby, we must understand the two commands in this verse.

First, we are to daily clothe ourselves in Jesus, rather than any other thing. Being “clothed in Jesus” is another way of saying that we are to live and respond to life by faith and in surrender to the amazing truth that Jesus lives within us. We are his in regards to all areas of life. We are not our own and have no right to say, “Jesus, I love and worship you, but in this area, I’ll take care of things myself.”

These areas in which we seek to be queen of our universe are generally linked to our fleshly desires, such as being emotionally or sexually comforted, whatever the cost. Or being #1 in someone’s thoughts or affections, regardless of how unhealthy the attachment to that woman or man might be. Or pursuing (via pornography and other venues of media) a consistent stream of material that fuels our self-constructed worlds of romantic and sensual fantasy.

Later this week, I want to explore help us discover a) our specific areas of fleshly pull and b) the specific wisdom Jesus has for each of us in taking steps toward cutting off the fuel supply to our lusts.

For reflection:

  • Jesus conversed with, pursued, spent time with, loved, healed, and forgave sin-ensnared women throughout his ministry while on earth. Often the church has been silent about the sexual sin patterns with which women are struggling. Read and reflect upon Psalm 139; think of it as a prayer you might say to Jesus as you seek help and freedom from your addictions to people’s attention and affection, to your five-, ten-, or twenty-five-year masturbation pattern, to your inability to stop having sex with others. Jesus knows you in these struggles and loves you so much that he wants to free you from them.
Updated 5.10.2017

As I enjoyed the days of Thanksgiving holiday, a friend and I committed to help each other with individual health goals for December. (Why wait till January 1 for resolutions, right?) For starters, I’ll try to hit the elliptical at the gym twice a week, and also try one more time to be diligent about drinking lots of water. No time like now to get a fresh start!

But ohhh—the pull of our fleshly desires just doesn’t die easily. They don’t just go away, do they sisters? They need to be starved, slowly slain, dried out. You choose the adverbial phrase that resonates most deeply with your own experience as a woman seeking to live and relate in holy ways.

Romans 13:14 is a verse that speaks to this ‘holy starvation’ process that we’re all called to as followers of Christ. It says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV). Somehow, putting on the clothes—that is, the character—of Jesus Christ while simultaneously learning how to starve our unique patterns of temptation and selfish desire is the spiritual combination that leads to the changes God wants to make in our lives.

And unlike typical January resolutions, which tend to be self-focused, the changes God is making in us leads to a growing desire and ability to love other, which is the larger context of chapter 13: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8).

I’ll explore these thoughts a bit more in my next posts.

For reflection:

  • Read these passages to learn more of what it means to be “clothed” in Jesus: Colossians 3:12-13; Galatians 3:26-28.
  • What desires of the flesh keep you from loving people? Don’t think just in terms of big sin but of everyday, little ways that you make provision for selfishness in your life.
Updated 5.10.2017

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