23 Mar 2023
This post was written by Angela Suh, a Women’s Ministry intern at Harvest USA.
As a Harvest USA intern, some of my time has been dedicated to serving sexually betrayed wives through our biblical support group. I quickly learned that sexual betrayal in marriage has complicated, painful consequences and observed the tension these wives experience through feeling hopelessly stuck in their marriages.
A sexually betrayed wife faces her husband’s violation of the marriage covenant. When children are present, she may have to consider boundaries and relational dynamics within the home. She may be burdened with the family’s finances if the sexual betrayal caused his unemployment. Wives are sometimes unseen by their church leadership and left to suffer alone. Regardless of their circumstances, these betrayed wives are “bent over” (Luke 13:10–17), desperate (like Hannah, 1 Sam. 1), and longing to be seen (Gen. 16).
As I grieved with these women, I turned to God’s words to Hagar—a woman shunned, moving toward a dead end, and longing to be seen.
Echoes of the Fall
Hagar was Sarai’s Egyptian servant. Because Sarai was frustrated by her infertility, she commanded her husband, Abram, to “go in to” Hagar so Sarai might obtain children through her. He listened, and when Hagar conceived, she looked at Sarai with contempt. Therefore, Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar and Hagar fled (Gen. 16:1–6).
Sin drives this entire narrative. Sarai sinfully doubted God’s promise to provide a son, leading her to take matters into her own hands. Abram’s sinful desires caused him to listen to his wife’s voice and sleep with Hagar rather than protect Sarai (and Hagar) with God’s promises.
Does this ring a bell? Sarai and Abram’s behavior mirrors the fall in the Garden of Eden. Rather than clinging to God’s commands and promises, Eve doubted his words. She pursued knowledge with her very own hands— “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” —like Sarai, who “took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Gen. 3:6 and 16:3, my emphasis). Adam ate the fruit, without any question or objection, and Abram took a second wife.
Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
Then the story in Genesis 16 reveals another layer of sin: Hagar responded to the wrong committed against her by being sinfully contemptuous of Sarai and running away (Gen. 16:4).
Sin begets sin and comes from the heart (Luke 6:45). The complex consequences of sexual unfaithfulness are not random or isolated from the person or circumstances. But they are birthed from the desires of the heart (James 1:14). Wives can see their husbands’ sin for what it is even as, by God’s grace, they soberly recognize and confess their own sinfulness. This is not to shift the blame or put responsibility for the husband’s unfaithfulness onto the wife. But we live in a sinful world as sinful individuals. Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
The God Who Sees
In Hagar’s flight, she meets the angel of the Lord “by a spring of water in the wilderness.” He asked, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:7–8). The angel of the Lord identified Hagar for who she was and met her where she was. Among all the titles and names he could’ve used, the angel identified her as “servant of Sarai.” He looked at her with sober and realistic eyes.
The dualistic inquiry, “Where have you come from and where are you going,” recognizes Hagar’s past and notices her destination. Often, a sexually betrayed wife is so consumed by her husband’s failure and sin that all she wants to do—if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually—is run away.
But God’s Word shows our Father stopping to ask his broken daughters where they’re coming from and where they’re going. God is all-knowing; he doesn’t need this information. It’s like God asking Adam, “Where are you?” after the fall (Gen. 3:9). Of course, God knows—he is the God who sees. If God already knows, why does he ask?
The God Who Saves
God calls out and approaches in judgment. Yet God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve reveals his mercy. In questioning Hagar, God reveals his kindness.
Friends, his inquiry is not to put us to shame but to meet us exactly where we are; he is never too far behind or ahead. Even when Hagar couldn’t see her destination, God carefully and firmly directed her. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
After the angel of the Lord commanded Hagar to return to Sarai and declared God’s promises, she identified God as “a God of seeing.” She said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
Hagar’s circumstances were not fixed. She still had to bear Abram’s child and return to her mistress. However, Hagar didn’t find comfort in her circumstances but in the God who cared for her. Out in the desert—lonely, scared, and running away from a terrible situation—the God of the universe pursued Hagar. He knew her, looked after her, and “listened to [her] affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
This is my hope and prayer for wives suffering from sexual betrayal: that they would lay their souls bare before God and be satisfied in him alone. I pray for reconciliation, for husbands to turn from their sins. But above all, I pray for wives to know and believe that God sees and looks after them. He gave his one and only Son, the perfect Husband, to take on his bride’s every sin and redeem all her suffering. He will bring us to our final dwelling place, where he will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). Until that day: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
02 Mar 2023
If you or anyone close to you has struggled with exclusive same-sex attraction, you know that this is a particularly heavy burden to bear. I’ve heard painful story after story of men and women who wrestled in silence during most of their adolescence with confusion, shame, guilt, and increasing despair over the unrelenting experience of attraction to the same sex. No matter how many prayers they offered up, not only did their same-sex desires not go away, but desires for someone of the opposite sex never came.
More than ever before, we’re wrestling with questions of identity, sexuality, and what repentance and faithful living looks like for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Many churches and denominations have completely rejected a biblical sexual ethic and have embraced our God-denying culture’s definitions of love, identity, and sexuality.
But even within conservative biblical understandings of sexuality, there is still confusion and division over how to minister to our brothers and sisters wrestling in these ways.
I want to briefly address two common approaches to discipleship when it comes to the question of marriage, and then offer a third way that I believe is most helpful and most faithful to Scripture.
Most people who see life-long celibacy as the best or only option for Christians wrestling with exclusive same-sex attraction often explicitly or implicitly embrace a theology that sees same-sex desires as a core aspect of identity. Thus, many have no problem identifying as “gay Christians.” They’re not equating a gay identity with same-sex behavior—they still hold to the Bible’s design for sexuality when it comes to what is permissible sexual activity. But they also see exclusive same-sex desires as a largely unchangeable, life-long experience until the resurrection. Thus, the only option for the vast majority of these brothers and sisters is celibacy.
Pros of the Celibacy Solution
It’s commendable to see our brothers and sisters testify to the reality that Christ is all-satisfying. If following Christ means they’ll never experience sexual satisfaction, they willingly take up that cross. This choice of celibacy also points the entire church to what is eternal. Human marriage was designed by God to be a temporary sign that gives way to the reality of the church’s eternal union with our bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
The celibacy solution also recognizes the reality that there are many sin struggles in this life that God may allow to remain a formidable foe until we see Jesus face to face.
Lastly, the celibacy solution reminds us that while marriage is a blessing for many, it’s not a requirement for all. We can’t escape Paul’s provocative words when he states that “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).
Cons of the Celibacy Solution
The celibacy solution typically comes from an unbiblical premise, spoken or unspoken, which states: “My exclusive same-sex attraction is immutable, unchangeable, and God almost certainly will do nothing about it.” It would seem that this theology places same-sex desires in a unique category from other sins. When Jesus does a radical work of bringing dead hearts to life, making someone a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), this particular area remains unreachable from God’s grace.
This belief goes hand-in-hand with another unbiblical supposition: same-sex desire, if not consciously acted upon, is morally neutral. As long as you don’t allow the attraction to give birth to lust, there’s no need for change because this is not an area in need of repentance. But the church has historically rejected this premise which only identifies sin in the realm of conscious choice. The Bible makes it clear that the fall has corrupted not only our choices but our desires as well (James 1:14–15, Jer. 17:9).
While it’s important to maintain a distinction between “indwelling sin” and what we could call “willful sin,” both need redemption. When we limit the scope of sin’s reach, we also limit the scope of the gospel’s reach. To dive deeper on the topic of whether same-sex desires can be properly labeled sin, see my previous blog, “Is it Sin or Temptation?”
The call to repent of all sinful desires is non-negotiable. This will seem impossible if desire and identity are inseparably linked.
Some see same-sex attraction as morally neutral because they often see their attractions as integral to their identity. To lose this desire would be to lose a part of themselves that they don’t want to lose. Whether it be their creativity, their cultural tastes, or the way they interact with friends, they see their desires as foundational to their being. But to whatever degree repentance changes our preferences or the ways we interact with others, that can only be a good thing. The call to repent of all sinful desires is non-negotiable. This will seem impossible if desire and identity are inseparably linked.
In response to the celibacy solution, some conservative Christian thought leaders and pastors have advocated that many Christians wrestling with same-sex desires should place a high emphasis on seeking marriage with someone of the opposite sex. While they would not go so far as to say that it’s sinful for every Christian to remain single, they would say that in many (if not most) cases, true repentance of same-sex desires would eventually give way to new desires for biblical marriage.
They would also propose that the ethical opposite of same-sex desire is heterosexual desire within marriage. They would argue that Paul’s description of the call to singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 was not describing someone wrestling with exclusive same-sex desires but instead refers to those Christians who’ve been given the gift of great contentment in singleness. Therefore, it is not tied to a sense of inability to marry according to God’s design.
Pros of the Marriage Solution
The marriage solution fundamentally rejects the idea that exclusive same-sex attraction is tied to identity and therefore immutable. It also sees same-sex attraction as part of indwelling sin and therefore in need of redemption. It’s an aspect of the Christian’s experience that the gospel has the power to change. These pastors want believers who struggle with same-sex attraction to believe God is powerful enough to bring about incredible change even at the level of our desires. The very heart of the gospel is the proclamation that what was impossible with man is made possible with God (Matt. 19:26).
The very heart of the gospel is the proclamation that what was impossible with man is made possible with God (Matt. 19:26).
The marriage solution also rightly pushes back against an unhelpful feedback loop in the celibacy solution in which the belief that heterosexual marriage is impossible prevents the possibility of it. Our beliefs impact our desires, and vice versa. The more we believe a specific narrative, the more our expectations, hopes, and desires will be shaped by that narrative. If the narrative says someone should abandon realistic expectations of developing godly desires for marriage, then hope has no place to root itself. That desire will have no fertile soil to feed upon.
Cons of the Marriage Solution
The biggest problem with the marriage solution is that it turns the good opportunity of marriage into a command that Scripture does not warrant. There is no biblical backing to make a one-to-one correspondence between repentance and romantic desires.
Sexual desire is never commanded for a single Christian. If a Christian is already married, they’re called to cherish, love, and pursue their spouse—including, when appropriate, fanning the flames of desire so their attractions are devoted to their spouse alone. It’s also true that there may be a correlation between repentance of same-sex desires and a desire for marriage. As someone repents, the Lord may open their heart to an opportunity for marriage that he presents. If someone is convinced that their exclusive same-sex attraction is core to their identity, their unwillingness to consider marriage may indicate a lack of repentance. But that is a case-by-case area of wisdom and discernment.
But this gets to the question of the goal of repentance. The ethical opposite of same-sex lust is not heterosexual desire, but love (see The Opposite of Sexual Sin). The ethical opposite of lust is love for God and love for neighbor—in these two the entire law is summed up.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 138, asks, “What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?” The answer focuses on chastity as the main way we positively fulfill the seventh commandment. It says that marriage is a duty if someone does not have the “gift of continency”— “the exercise of self-constraint in sexual matters.” Self-constraint implies that there is something in need of restraining! Therefore, continency is not the absence of any sexual desire (whether hetero- or homosexual), but the ability to live a life of faithful obedience to God while lacking the proper context for sexual expression. This reflects Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:9 when he says that those who cannot exercise self-control should marry. We cannot conclude that the Bible requires marriage for someone who is faithfully repenting of sinful sexual desires with increasing self-control.
The marriage solution ties a heavy burden upon the necks of our brothers and sisters. It has too many similarities to the extra-biblical requirements of pharisaical laws. Just as forbidding marriage goes beyond the testimony of Scripture, so does requiring it.
I’ve sought to be accurate and charitable in my assessments of the first two solutions. Both views highlight some important truths and make fair criticisms of the opposite perspective. But their conclusions fall short of God’s wisdom.
Instead, if a brother or sister wrestling with same-sex attraction asks you if they should pursue marriage, see this as an opportunity to encourage them to bring their desires with open hands before the Lord.
For every unmarried Christian, the possibility of marriage must be fully surrendered to God. He claims Lordship over every part of your life.
Sometimes marriage seems to be the direction God is pointing them. They largely experience exclusive same-sex attraction but are open to marriage and desire to raise a family. If God calls them to marriage, there will be struggles (as in every marriage)—but it will also be an ongoing means of their sanctification and blessing. For others, their hesitancy to pursue marriage may be a lack of trust in their heavenly Father, revealing an idolatrous desire for control. The issue is not marriage itself, but what marriage is revealing about their hearts. For still others, they may not desire to pursue marriage because they are living contentedly with self-restraint as a single believer.
For every unmarried Christian, the possibility of marriage must be fully surrendered to God. He claims Lordship over every part of your life. We should hold up everything to God with open hands, including marriage, singleness, our career, where we live, how we spend our time and money, and especially including our desires. If you surrender to our Lord’s perfect will in this area, he will lead you. Perhaps God has a long, thriving season of service in the Kingdom that is only accomplished through singleness. That season of singleness may give way to marriage one day. The key is that your entire life is fully surrendered to him.
This is the standard for all followers of Christ! Jesus demands we give him everything (Luke 14:26). The only proper response to God’s amazing grace in salvation is to “no longer live for [ourselves] but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Our plans and our desires no longer have control, but “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Our flesh naturally fights against this type of radical surrender, but the Spirit gently, patiently, sweetly, and convincingly continues to draw us into it.
My former colleague Dave White used to say that legalism and licentiousness are two sides of the same coin. They’re both sinful attempts to avoid a relationship with God. In a similar way, forcing or forbidding marriage cuts off the life of prayer that is required when considering such weighty decisions. For some of my single brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction, God may be calling you to the scary work of praying about marriage. For others, you’ve been praying about this, you have submitted this to the Lord, and he has given you contentment in his call of singleness for your life.
A brief word to my married brothers and sisters who continue to battle against same-sex desires. You’re not alone in the fight to keep your desires singularly focused on your spouse. This is a battle every married person must faithfully fight. Remember, Jesus is Lord of your desires (Phil. 2:13)! Keep offering them to him. You may find it difficult at times to fan the flame of desire for your spouse, but this is an area that you can proactively cultivate by God’s grace. He wants to bless your Spirit-driven efforts at fostering a deeper longing for your spouse, as those efforts are the fruit of a singular and intentional longing for Christ.
Your heavenly Father can be trusted. He will not give you a scorpion when you ask for an egg, or a serpent when you ask for a fish (Luke 12:11–12). He loves you. He purchased you for his prized possession. He wants to lavish you with good things that result in praise and thanksgiving to his name. You can trust him with your desires, your future, and your entire life.
In this fallen world, we’ve all experienced suffering, distress, and anguish—and we’ve all sought relief in sinful ways (Rom. 3:10). Maybe you’re seeking relief from a stressful job through secret pornography use. Perhaps experimenting with opposite-gender clothing makes you feel secure in a harsh world, or an unholy relationship has become your refuge when you feel forgotten and unknown by your spouse.
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind. This makes sense because that choice sin feels vital. What our sin provides often feels like life to us; through it we experience comfort and pleasure. We feel loved, significant, in control.
What happens when we give those things up? Does Jesus provide the comfort and pleasure sin once supplied? Can God’s comfort and deliverance really compare with sin’s attractions?
The Psalmist’s Testimony
Psalm 116 introduces us to someone in agony. We can likely relate to the psalmist’s urgency and need: “I suffered distress and anguish” (v. 3), “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” (v. 4), “I am greatly afflicted!” (v. 10), “All mankind are liars!” (v. 11).
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind.
Yet we also see the perspective of one who has been delivered: “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (vv. 8–9). He has received God’s comfort—and it delights his heart.
What God’s Comfort Doesn’t Provide
God doesn’t give his glory to another. He is Lord of all. He’s in control of everything and his ways are perfect. Our hearts long to be “little lords” and control our universe. When a single woman feels the sting of loneliness, she takes control over her feelings by watching things she knows are ungodly. When an older man doesn’t have the sexual intimacy he desires with his wife, he seeks control by chatting with much younger women online. In contrast, the comfort God gives is not something we can turn off and on to modulate our discomfort on demand. Receiving God’s comfort requires a heart willing to submit to his ways rather than grasping for control.
Modern life trains our bodies and minds for immediacy. One hundred years ago, no one would’ve believed that I can now take a small device out of my pocket and, within an hour, a person I’ve never met will deliver donuts to my door. A big draw toward sinful patterns is the immediacy of relief they provide. In the words of a former Harvest USA staff member, “God’s comfort doesn’t always rush with excitement in the same way sexual sin does.” We must endure a painful period of learning to fast from sinful comforts to receive the true comfort of God.
Our sinful patterns operate as a functional “escape valve.” We can simply opt-out of feeling sad, uncomfortable, or angry by soothing our hearts with sexual sin. The way of Christ is a way of self-denial and affliction. Who wants to sign up for that!? But take heart. God does provide a way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). He also provides himself as a refuge for our souls. But how do we taste his comfort?
How Does God Comfort Us?
- By His Spirit
“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18). How tender and personal is the comforting ministry of God’s Spirit! The Holy Spirit also gives counsel (John 14:26), promises to be with us forever (John 14:15), and, ultimately, points to Jesus (John 15:26). Are you willing to let go of your own ways of seeking comfort to receive the far-surpassing comfort of God’s Spirit?
- Through His Word
David says, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (Ps. 119:162) Why would David write this? We see the answer in Jesus’s words to the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).
The Scriptures are a precious comfort because they bear witness about Jesus, in whom we have eternal life. God’s Word reveals Christ to us! Read his Word and pray, “Lord, show me the beauty of Christ in the Word.” This will bring great comfort to your weary soul.
- Through His People
The Church is designed to be a source of help, comfort, and encouragement to the Christian. God’s people are the hands and feet of Jesus to be used by God to comfort and help weary and afflicted believers. Safe Christians can provide a refuge in your pain and remind you of the truth when you’re struggling and weary with sin.
- By Faith
The life of the Christian is a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, much of the comfort we receive is by faith. This seems to be one of the most difficult pivot points in getting free from ensnaring sin patterns. How our hearts long for the immediate, physical, and familiar when we’re suffering and need comfort. Take heart, brother or sister in Christ. You will one day see Jesus face to face! You will have the comfort you long for in all its fullness. Your Savior will personally wipe away your tears (Rev. 21:4).
What If I Don’t Feel It?
Practically speaking, this may all sound unrealistic. I can appreciate skepticism if you’ve never had an experience of victory over temptation through the felt comforts of Christ.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul.
At one point, I deeply struggled to receive Jesus’s comfort—his real comfort—and longed to know what others were speaking of. I clung to Hebrews 12, where we see two benefits of submitting to the Lord’s discipline. It yields the “peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” and, more stunningly, causes us to “share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10–11). I had to embrace the mindset that I was being trained by the Lord himself. I began looking to a future yield, to this precious “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that my heart increasingly desired. This takes endurance. It means taking individual steps of faith—without the feelings—as you wait for your “spiritual muscles” to grow in your practice of communion with Christ through exercising your faith.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul. Pray honestly and ask, “Lord, teach me to receive the comfort only you can provide.” The Lord longs to answer when you call out to him.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” (Isaiah 30:18)
The holiday period has passed and a new year has begun. But perhaps this has been a season of sorrow in your life, as it has for me. I wish to write this article to you—especially as we contemplate the days ahead with trepidation.
Perhaps your child didn’t return home for Christmas and, though it’s February, you left the lights up just in case she does. Your eyes have become tired of tears as memories of your beloved one are wrapped up in arguments about sexual brokenness.
What can I say to parents grieving the news that their son is about to transition? That their daughter is marrying a transgender man? The fluctuations of gender identity destroy what we hold dear and what God himself created. There aren’t enough brushstrokes to settle the rising dust of human depravity. Indeed, those who follow Christ face a continuous barrage of conflict and suffering.
We know what the Bible teaches about gender, but how do we live in this world? What should we speak or do—particularly when our hearts are breaking for our loved ones?
Oh, so much has been theologized. We know what the Bible teaches about gender, but how do we live in this world? What should we speak or do—particularly when our hearts are breaking for our loved ones? Now is the right time to hear Jesus’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Beloved, I know it’s hard. Don’t stop your tears from falling. Yes, bury your face within the palm of your hands and weep. In the darkest times, when our faith is being tested and we’re hard-pressed to consider God, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to produce steadfastness, preparing us to acknowledge the Lord’s authority and rule.
So permit yourself to mourn. If there are troubling, heavy words your heart needs to spill out, may I encourage you to lift them in prayer to the Lord? He will incline his ears to you (Ps. 17:6). Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). Remember Paul who, with a thorn in his flesh and a messenger of Satan harassing him, was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). Out of this context—weakness—we sing with hope as David did, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
By the Spirit, Christ sustains you and enables you to fight for him. His power is made perfect in you as you stand upon the threshold of utter weakness, still proclaiming with all your heart that Jesus IS your King.
Even your weakness and grief are part of the good fight! “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccles. 7:2–3). In the Lord’s hands, the sadness you suffer refines your soul. It causes you to grasp for a glimpse of eternity and makes you yearn for renewal in Jesus, our soul’s strength. It reminds you of the Lord’s promise—from all eternity past to all eternity future, we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15b).
Your suffering may look like an untamable monster today, but rest assured that its days are numbered. It is transient.
Truly, as you endure trials that can tear apart relationships and challenge your faith, remember that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17–18). Your suffering may look like an untamable monster today, but rest assured that its days are numbered. It is transient. For “all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Pet. 1:24–25a, Isa. 40:6–8). The battle belongs to our triumphant Lord.
Until Christ returns, beloved, we are to fix our eyes upon him who commands death to be no more and whose Word remains unchangeable. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a). By having this mind among ourselves we do suffer, upholding the call to seek the lost, pointing them to life in Christ. You may be hated for this as your child leaves home. You may be persecuted by your own family and afflicted by every ungodly law. But it is precisely when you’re being given over to death for Jesus’s sake that the life of Jesus is manifested in your mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11).
Beloved, remember Christ. He promises life to us:
This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:13, 16–19)
09 Feb 2023
In one of our women’s biblical support groups recently, we were discussing the role of faith as it relates to receiving God’s comfort. The group members and I all confessed that we don’t always walk by faith and believe that God will comfort us in the manner and timing we want. A question emerged: Are we willing to forsake our false comforts to receive by faith what God promises to give? Could God’s promise to comfort really be true?
At the heart level, these women’s questions revealed deeper questions about the character of God himself. It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue questions that press us into what we truly believe about God’s commitment to be Father, Comforter and Home to us.
False Comfort or God’s Comfort
Have you ever felt the tension between what God says about himself and your daily, lived experience? Have you wondered if the comfort God provides will truly be enough for you in your temptation and pain?
In Psalm 116 we find the psalmist in dire circumstances: being confronted with death and hell itself (v. 3). What words might you use for your circumstances—do they feel like death? Or hell? Perhaps you’re losing your marriage, your health, or facing the pain of past sexual abuse. Maybe you’re suffering the loss of a loved one, a child walking away from the faith, or your decades of unmet longings for love and relationship. At Harvest USA, discipleship for sexual strugglers takes shape as we learn to allow the grace of God to train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions in order to embrace self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–12). Part of that grace of God is undoubtedly his comfort and mercy.
How do we go from being people who regularly pursue sinful ways of escape or reward to those who seek and receive God’s help when our hearts long for comfort in the pain of this life? Or another way one ministry recipient put it: “Does God’s comfort actually work?”
I Love the Lord
In the opening two verses, we see the psalmist reflecting on what God has already done (past tense) and how it has impacted his present manner of life:
I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (Ps. 116:1–2, my emphasis)
Why does the psalmist love the Lord? Because when it really counted, he banked everything on God’s promise, and God did indeed hear his voice and pleas for mercy. Furthermore, how did the psalmist learn to live as a result of this experience of God’s help? The Psalmist has come to believe something about God’s character—that God inclines his ear to him.
Have you ever had a safe relationship where someone has inclined their ear toward you—maybe a parent, friend, pastor, or spouse? You can be certain they’ll listen and care when you bring a concern to them. This is the very heart of God toward all his children! As a result of exercising his muscles of faith by calling out to God in desperation and seeing God provide real help, the psalmist has learned a new way of living his life: calling on God as long as he lives (v. 2).
Make Room for God’s Help
To whom or to what do you currently call out when you suffer distress and anguish? Has a #1 friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend become your source of salvation from distress? What about escapes like pornography, building a fantasy life, or solo sex? Have these become your help in anguish, boredom, or stress?
Friend, you can bank on God being who he says he will be. He promises to comfort you, and he will. His character—his everlasting goodness—will never change. When was the last time you risked giving up false comfort, with your only hope being God’s character and promises? In the Church today, I fear we don’t often see the power of God displayed in our lives partly because we don’t take risks resting on God’s promises. We have our plans, programs, and safe ways of living, but these come at the expense of seeing how the Lord will provide as we live by faith in real time—with our real desires, longings, and expectations.
Has your conception of God and his loving power toward you become miniature and domesticated? Andrew Murray says it this way:
Oh that God would by his grace show you what a God you have, and to what a God you have entrusted yourself—an omnipotent God, willing with his whole omnipotence to place himself at the disposal of every child of his!
Are we willing to forsake false comforts in order to receive the comfort offered in Christ? The sober reality is this: if we’ve never sought God for help and comfort, and when we lay down familiar ways of coping to bank on God’s promises, we are stepping into a loss of control and a realm of relative unknown. Some call this a “leap of faith.” Compared to the known euphoria of sin, God’s comfort can feel like a letdown.
Yet God’s Word shows that the process of godly sorrow and repentance from our sinful ways of coping leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10). God’s comfort is like gold—precious and everlasting—compared to the flimsy shine of dollar store tinsel. The pursuit of God’s promises, by faith, leads to reward (Heb. 11:6). Dear Christian brother or sister, will you, by faith, seek the true comfort God provides? As our Savior promises, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
Are you a woman seeking freedom from sinful comfort-seeking? Harvest USA’s women’s ministry wants to serve you! Reach out at email@example.com. This process is confidential.
02 Feb 2023
When our first discipleship workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was published in January 2013, I was thankful and expectant. Thankful because producing this resource had been a long, somewhat challenging process and finally, after more than three years of book “pregnancy,” the workbook had been birthed. I waited expectantly to see the response and impact on women’s lives.
One message came in on publishing day from a woman: “You do know, right, that 99% of women in the church will never engage [with] this? Most churches won’t even consider this!”
I admit my response wasn’t, initially, fueled by one drop of compassion. I didn’t wonder what sort of backstory would lead someone to express this. No. Instead, I felt frustrated and angry. I didn’t want balloons and accolades—but perhaps a little encouragement and thankfulness!
Yes, but God rescued me from myself and I sensed his gentle, truthful wisdom. “Ellen, are the one percent worth it? Maybe she’s right. But that still leaves many hurting, gospel-desperate women who have expressed the need for this resource.” My heart changed in that moment.
God’s Stories from God’s Daughters
Praise be to God that the Spirit of comfort and counsel radically flipped my anger and frustration into tears of not just joy, but also tenderness. I’d had so many discipleship conversations with beautiful women who were the humble, needy, one percent.
Now, ten years later, I’ve had the priceless gift of hearing stories from all over the country and world of how God has used Sexual Sanity for Women to help women grow into Christlikeness as they pursued sexual and relational integrity.
From a biblical counselor:
Sexual Sanity for Women has been the most helpful, profound, and influential book I have ever used in women’s programs. For the past four years I have been using it regularly to walk with women of all ages in discipleship, as a chaplain teaching life skills in a shelter, and to my surprise to heal from my own history with sexual brokenness that I never realized permeated into every thought and behavioral pattern of my life. With the grace of the Lord, I have seen this study transform hearts and minds to grasp the beautiful rest, shalom, and freedom that only King Jesus can give. I am deeply appreciative to the Harvest USA Tree Model and the SSFW study for taking a sensitive and incredibly complex topic such as this and making it relatable, reliable, and redemptive. Thank you, Ellen Dykas & Harvest USA for such a wonderful and accessible study!
Valentine Curiel (MA), Counseling Director, Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA
From a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA:
Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness (SSFW) has been a life changing resource for me. I learned what I knew about sexuality through my own experience of sexual abuse, as well as being exposed to my father’s pornography from a young age. On top of that, I attended church and even pursued a Bible and seminary degree with little to no training or discipleship in the area of sexuality from those experiences, nor did I have any meaningful teaching or discipleship on these topics in the church. This ought not to be! By my 20’s I was confused, ashamed, and stuck in deep patterns of relational brokenness, as well as dabbling in my own pornography use. As a woman, I was confronted by silence from the church on these street-level issues that I was facing to an increasing degree. I reached out to Harvest USA as a broken and hopeless woman. I remember saying, “I don’t feel like I am in control of my own life anymore.” When I bought a copy of SSFW, I kept it hidden under my bed, and only read it in secret. Through God’s kindness, this resource was a significant part of how the Lord set me free. Topics like how our past informs our present struggles, temptation, and how to embrace God as our true Father, comforter, and home set me on a totally new trajectory in my Christian life. The Lord has shown his kindness to me in many ways, and I can’t speak of his work in my life without mentioning this life-changing resource.
An Exciting Future for Women’s Ministry
And the woman who sent that message to me on publishing day in 2013? After the Lord comforted and corrected me, I reached out to her to find out why she thought the way she did. It turned out that this dear sister in Christ had shame and painful experiences with the church in her background. She had felt missed, silenced, and utterly un-helped.
Wow. She was herself in the 1% but didn’t know where to find caring, Christ-centered help. Our interchange began a relationship that continues today. In fact, this very dear woman became a faithful financial supporter to me. She became an advocate for Harvest USA to women’s ministry leaders, pastors, and churches—several joined my support team!
Harvest USA is committed to a vision for ministry that includes robust, Christ-centered, gospel-driven discipleship for women. Thank you to every woman who has entrusted your story to our team. Thank you to every woman who has journeyed through SSFW with college students, singles, married women, women in prison, and hurting women forced into shelters. Thank you to every male church leader who has trained others up for this essential work.
Truly—as Jesus regularly and boldly sought, loved, touched, forgave, healed, and set free so many women during his earthly ministry, may the church continue to grow in extending this vital kingdom work to women of all ages.
19 Jan 2023
Shame-filled tears streamed down my face as I said to a friend, “I can’t go to God again! This is my own fault.” I described a scene that, in my mind, perfectly captured my relationship with Christ. It’s now infamously known as “the sledgehammer illustration.”
It went like this: God is the owner of a luxury car, and each morning I’d wake up and take a sledgehammer to the windshield of God’s car. Then, at the end of the day, I’d go to him crying for forgiveness. God would forgive my sins and comfort me. And the very next day, I’d walk right back up to his car, sledgehammer in hand, and smash his windshield again.
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness? The pain and ruin I was experiencing were undoubtedly my own fault. My friend looked at me and said, “Caitlin, God is a Savior. That’s just what you need—a saving, rescuing God.”
Could God have compassion on me, I thought, when I just kept smashing his windshield and asking for forgiveness?
Have you ever felt like I did? Have you ever felt as though God didn’t want to hear from you again? Have you imagined that God is withholding his help and care because your suffering is a direct result of your sins, failures, and choices?
Perhaps you’ve taken a costly step of obedience and confessed your infidelity to your spouse, and now you’re engulfed in the destructive consequences. Or maybe you’re in a season of loneliness and grief because you walked away from an unholy relationship you never should have pursued in the first place.
Does God Care When We Have No One to Blame But Ourselves?
In Psalm 107 we’re introduced to four vignettes, each describing someone in a dire situation who cries out to the Lord for help. I recommend you read the entire psalm, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the third vignette found in vv. 17–22:
Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
We’re introduced to a fool who, because of his iniquities, suffered distress and needed deliverance from his own destruction. Does that sound familiar?
But this is truly good news for the ruined sinner. Can you see why? God gives the same healing and deliverance to the foolish sinner (vv. 19–20) as he gives to the other case studies presented in Psalm 107—he doesn’t measure out his help based on our merit.
This Psalm puts the character of our Savior on beautiful display. Is God a compassionate Savior? Psalm 107 gives a resounding YES!
The hymn Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy beautifully summarizes this idea:
Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.
What Am I Really Believing?
Do you find yourself mired in the anguish of your sin’s fallout? Below are some diagnostic questions for you. Perhaps you can talk through these questions with a pastor, counselor, or trusted friend.
- Is there a part of you that wants to bring a work to your repentance (a changed attitude, a new resolve, a step in the right direction) to merit God’s compassion?
- If you believe God is against you because of your sin, what, in your mind, would cause him to be for you in the future?
- What are you believing about God that’s keeping you from going to him in confession and repentance today?
- Do you believe God warms or cools his compassion toward you based on your behavior? Why or why not?
Jesus: The Rescuer
Do you feel your need for Jesus amid the consequences of your sin? Are you weary and heavy-laden from your own destructive decisions? Do you need comfort in the firestorm created by your own failure? Oh ruined sinner, look to Christ! Cry out to him in every trouble, even if the trouble is your own doing—look to Jesus.
We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices.
Our hearts naturally push against the humility and dependence this requires. We bring nothing. Let that free you to bend the knee before your Rescuer. Humbly receive his comfort and help in the midst of the affliction you face from your own sinful choices—he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22–23).
12 Jan 2023
Brother in Christ, do you ever feel there’s a switch in your brain that gets turned on, and once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself back in the gutter of pornography? Does porn feel inevitable? Sister in Christ, do you experience triggers, such as suggestive posts on social media, that lead you onto a highway to porn with only one exit: “Give In to Temptation”?
Many people fall into the belief that once desire has been awakened, the only way to silence that nagging voice is to give it what it wants. They believe the porn interstate has one way off, and that’s to give in.
But before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
Use Strategic Speed Bumps to Slow Down
While many people feel they “fall into” porn, there were dozens of decision points along the way that led to that destination. Slowing down is critical to seeing those earlier exit ramps. To do this, we need to place speed bumps on the highway to porn.
Speed bumps include anything that makes pornography difficult to access. If porn is right in your pocket on your phone, you’re flying down the highway at 150 mph. No wonder you missed all the other exits! Speed bumps force you to slow down. These may include filters and accountability software on all internet-enabled devices, removing all social media, or perhaps getting rid of a smart phone altogether. It sounds painful to limit your access to many good things, but I hear testimony after testimony of the peace and freedom many people experience when they couldn’t look at porn due to lack of access.
Before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
The reason these measures are speed bumps and not brick walls is because there’s ultimately no guaranteed way to restrict access to someone who truly wants to find pornography. People will go to great lengths and spend incredible amounts of time and money just to get their next fix. Where there is a will, there typically is a way.
But the fatal flaw I hear from so many is that because speed bumps don’t guarantee success, they don’t even try them. This is a lie from the depths of hell. Any distance you can create between yourself and access to sin is to your advantage. It gives time for the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and turn you from sin. Putting speed bumps up also shows you’re sober minded about what’s at stake in the battle against sin. Scripture explicitly commands us not to make any provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). Your willingness to limit your access to porn shows you take sin seriously.
Earlier Exits Off the Highway to Porn
Believe it or not, this highway is chock-full of exits that don’t involve sinning. Once you slow down, you’ll see they’re everywhere! What are some of these earlier exits?
- Switch locations. Pornography prefers privacy. An obvious exit is to leave your private room and find a place with other people. If you’re the only person at home, go for a walk or study at the library. For those who work remotely, take your work to a café, remove all curtains and blinds from your home office, and maybe take the door off.
- Reach out for help. Don’t expect one person to be everything you need when it comes to reinforcements. As soon as tempting thoughts enter your mind, out yourself. Text six friends and then systematically call each one until one of them picks up. Fight the lie that says you’re annoying them. The sooner you bring those tempting thoughts into the light, the less power they have over you. James wasn’t lying when he promised, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- Access truth. The most obvious decision here is to open your Bible and flood your mind with truth (Phil. 4:8). But there’s a plethora of creative ways to do this if you’re hesitant to pick up your Bible in those moments. Always have an audio Bible on-hand and fill your airwaves with God’s precious promises. Turn on Christian music or listen to a sermon or Christian podcast. Perhaps you have “Fighter Verses” in your wallet or posted on your wall—these are specific verses you’ve found particularly strategic when you’re tempted to sin.
- Reach up to God. According to Hebrews 4:16, we’re called to enter God’s throne room of grace in time of need to receive mercy and find grace to help. You know temptation to look at porn is not just any old “time of need,” this is DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war! You also know your resources to fight this temptation are limited and ineffective on their own. You need divine help. Grace is not only God’s gift of forgiveness, it’s also his power that he freely gives you in Christ to battle temptation. But you need to come to him for it. You need to get on your knees and pray for his help. Pray to God for eyes to see him in his glory, so the “things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Ask God to make you sober-minded to the devastating consequences of pornography. Ask him to meet you in your trials that so often underlie the temptation to escape them.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far.
- Find someone to serve. Pornography is the epitome of selfishness. It’s exploiting someone else for your own pleasure. A powerful weapon against selfishness is to proactively find ways to serve. Serving others is much more fulfilling and doesn’t leave you with guilt and shame. Looking at pornography in the morning can ruin your whole day, sometimes your whole week. But serving someone else in the morning can brighten your day and become the highlight of your week. This doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be as simple and powerful as praying for people in need, calling a friend who struggles with loneliness, or doing the leftover dishes in the sink.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far. Remember, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). As you grow in sanctification, you may still find yourself back on that highway—but the early exit signs will become much clearer. The more you take those early exits, you’ll find yourself less frequently on the highway at all, instead opting for the scenic route of God’s glory, beauty, and grace.
05 Jan 2023
Written by a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA
Have you ever been blindsided by pain from the past erupting unexpectedly in present circumstances? It can be disconcerting and even terrifying. I’d like to share my experience of this in the hope that it will help others walking out faith and obedience regarding not only sexual sin, but also the wreckage of painful relationships.
I’m an older woman and thought I’d worked through my issues from the past, including a difficult relationship with my mom. I love the Lord, have sought to be immersed in the truth of God’s Word, and have also benefited greatly from counseling as well as Harvest USA’s discipleship for women. I experienced same-sex attraction (SSA) in my teen years and early adulthood but, by God’s grace, those desires dissipated profoundly. I’m thankful for a kind and godly husband who has journeyed with me. Amid these blessings, a few years ago an incident occurred that brought me to my knees with a sense of desperation to understand what had been triggered that I was seeking to escape.
The Trigger and the Memory
There had been a change in leadership at the job I’d held for many years. During supervision with my new boss, she didn’t want to hear a word I had to say. Things were tense. After the meeting, I found myself wanting to run out of the building. I thought, “Maybe if I go pick up coffee every couple of hours, I’ll be alright; I just need to get out of here!” This familiar sensation is what I’d come to understand as a fight or flight response, common in those who’ve experienced trauma. Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
After a couple of days feeling out of control, I came before my heavenly Father on my knees in prayer, crying out, “What is wrong with me?” Exhausted, I rested in his presence. I believe the Lord helped me connect a childhood occurrence with its emotion and feelings. These feelings were the same as those I felt in that office with my boss.
Memories, sensations, locations, or even ways of relating to others that are like the original traumatic experience appear in the present day, causing a physiological response from the autonomic nervous system.
When I was a very young child, I remember standing by my mother’s chair in the living room wanting and asking for her attention, but she would ignore me with a mean and callous look on her face. I felt rejected—as if my personhood was not even worth being recognized. I hadn’t felt those feelings again until I was in that office decades later, with my boss who didn’t want to hear a word I said.
Significantly, my lack of connection with my mother—something I always wanted—was a key component when it comes to my disordered desire for emotional and physical intimacy with older women. I realize now that my mother was greatly troubled and had mental illness. I’ve forgiven her. I thought I’d fully worked through this loss until this triggering event.
What should we do when past trauma is triggered?
What the enemy intends to use for evil, God desires to use for our good (Gen. 50:20). I’ve found the following action steps helpful, and I hope they help you, too. As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
- It’s important to realize something is wrong. This sounds simple, right? However, sometimes we don’t take time to slow down enough to sort through our feelings. We need to identify what is going on in our hearts to work through our problems and pain. In Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Diane Langberg states:
Pain is the only protest in the human constitution that something is wrong. It is the only thing that raises its voice against existing abuses. If you jump to silence pain, you will fail to find the wound. Pain is the Martin Luther of the human framework; it plasters the wall of the city with the announcement that something is wrong.
- Take time to process what has happened. Like the grieving process, we need time to work through our loss. Many people find journaling helpful. This is an especially important step that must not be overlooked to work through the triggering event and how it relates to past trauma. Some will benefit from talking it out with a trusted friend or counselor to be guided through processing deep pain safely.
- Identify feelings like anxiety, anger, and fear and the “whys” behind each. Also, challenge corresponding thoughts that do not line up with what God says about you, replacing lies with the truth of God’s Word. Knowing who you are in Christ is a firm foundation on which to stand. Emotions can be powerful! When a past trauma has been triggered, it’s helpful to remind yourself that the past event is in the past and that you are safe in the here and now.
- Seek help. Your symptoms (and those strong feelings and emotions) should settle down over time. If you are continuing to struggle—having difficulty with your daily tasks, falling into old negative patterns, experiencing flashbacks or nightmares—help from a counselor may be warranted.
- Remember you’re not alone. Your heavenly Father is with you and will uphold you (Is. 43:1–3). He will never fail you! He longs to comfort you (2 Cor. 1:3). He desires that we pour out our heart to him, and yes, he will meet us in our most challenging times (Heb. 4:16). He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18).
- Don’t isolate. A natural reaction to trauma is to withdraw from others. However, it’s extremely important to maintain relationships and connections to your church community. When you’re hurting and feeling delicate, allow God’s people to love you. This doesn’t mean you share your struggle in every large group setting. But choose to lean on trusted friends who are spiritually mature and have modeled a compassionate heart toward sufferers. In the hard things of life, I have never felt so loved as to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters who care for me with the love of Jesus.
- Self-care. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting enough exercise. These things are known to be helpful, increasing our ability to cope with the stressors of life. If you are not feeling very motivated, take small steps in a positive direction and build on those steps as you begin to feel better. And don’t neglect to do things you enjoy!
As we respond in healthy ways and adjust our perception to align with the truth of Scripture, God meets us and continues his work in us—making us resilient and spiritually mature.
Know that God has good plans for you (Jer. 29:11) and desires to use you in the lives of others (Eph. 2:10). Look to Jesus always (Heb. 12:2–3) and run to him when your past pain is triggered—he is our help and our eternal healing.
15 Dec 2022
I love Christmas. Glowing tree lights illuminate sentimental ornaments, candlelight glints on red berries—everything gauche and shiny and celebratory. Christmas books adorn the coffee table. My long-suffering family endures endless repetitions of “Carols from St. Paul’s Cathedral.” There’s meal planning, card sending, and gifts.
This—receiving gifts—is where my family’s Christmas celebration can get derailed. Anyone else? We can begin to believe we should get precisely what we want. For all its convenience, the Amazon wishlist can become a petty tyrant, serving our bullying demands. This is self-focused—greedy rather than grateful. When it comes to Christmas presents, we can spot that.
But what about how we respond to the life God gives? We all live in a reality that, in some way, is not what we wanted. I never expected my husband to face young-onset Parkinson’s Disease, yet he does. I don’t want to see him growing weaker, yet he is. You may not want to struggle against sexual sin or singleness or discontentment. And family gatherings can make the season extra difficult, highlighting estranged relationships, grief, or loneliness. In all this heartache, do we see God as the tight-fisted arbiter of our life’s wish list—holding out on the good stuff? Or will we trust our heavenly Father?
God’s plans are better than our wish list life, even when we can’t see it and don’t feel it. He is good. He’s able and willing to do us good. Whether or not we believe this truth impacts everything.
Four realities about God’s providence nourish our belief:
1. God Works for Our Good
You may be happily married or aching with loneliness, struggling to care for a gender-dysphoric child or enjoying family life, daily fighting sexual sin or living victoriously. Whether you’re facing the best or the worst things, God’s Word says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, my emphasis).
It’s hard to think of trials as gifts in God’s hands. And it’s true that evil itself is evil. Yet God sovereignly works even evil things for good to his children. In this light, we can receive all things as gifts tailored to us from the wise hand of our good Father.
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us.
“Do not mistake me,” writes Puritan Thomas Watson. “I do not say that of their own nature the worst things are good, for they are a fruit of the curse; but though they are naturally evil, yet the wise, overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them, they are morally good” (21). Joseph answered his brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20a).
What a mystery and miracle. In his providence, God fits our life’s circumstances to purpose, for us. Whatever the pain, your wise Father is using that very thing for good in your life. As William Cowper wrote,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
2. God Gives What Is Necessary
Our Father also takes the worst things and uses them as medicine to refine us. “Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation,” writes Watson (22). This is not an optional treatment. It’s spiritual chemotherapy—a violent cure, without which we die.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7, my emphasis)
Our framework for this hard truth is the reality that our greatest need is spiritual. Apart from salvation in Christ, we are eternally lost. The best gifts of this world will vanish like mist in the morning sun. But Christ, and him growing ever dearer to us, is everything we need for all eternity. Truly! Anything that helps us let go of this passing world and cling to the One who lasts forever is essential medicine.
3. God Gives Abundantly
But this medicine is not only bitter. It also carries the sweetness of union with Christ and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
He provides all we need each moment to walk through this vale of tears, and he is himself our eternal, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3–5). Fernando Ortega’s song “Give Me Jesus” says, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” What better gift can we have, for life and eternity, than fellowship with our Savior?
Our Father is merciful and generous—he gives us himself.
And believers—we have Jesus. He is ours and we are his, now and forever. Jesus walks with us; he does not leave us alone in suffering but comforts and guides us as our sympathetic High Priest. In our suffering, Lord, give us Jesus. In our painful circumstances, our lost hopes, our discouragement—give us Jesus.
4. God Gives What He Requires
God delights to answer this prayer! Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10–11). Our Shepherd Savior is our hope and rest.
In our sin and sorrow, we default to wishlist thinking, but Jesus never did. We question our Father’s character and work—but Jesus trusted his Father unto death. We are weak, but Jesus obeyed in perfect strength. And those who look to him in faith are united with him in his righteousness. This is good news! Even as we doubt, we receive Jesus’s perfect track record and Jesus himself—what can compare to this eternal reality?
God is good. See the cross of Christ and the empty tomb for proof. Whatever you face today, your good, caring Father is working good for you in all things, and you’re headed for an eternal glory more satisfying than any earthly wish list.