Reigniting Hope: Campfires to Wildfires

I have the wildest memory from high school — and it’s not what you think. 😉 It’s actually my friends and I sitting around a campfire, at a campground, with my parents. And we’re dressed up. Not fancy-like, but ‘in character.’ Perched in our folding lawn chairs, we role-played a murder mystery game under the summer night sky.

One friend wore her dad’s Navy uniform. Big white hat and all. So many other ‘characters’ slipped into their personas as we giggled our way to figuring out whodunnit. And all of it happened around the fire in the middle of our circle. Wild.

As we finish our fall series, “Reigniting Hope,” I want to direct our eyes to the flame that remains at the center of all we are as Christ-followers: the Holy Spirit.

  • A campfire’s warmth might draw us near on a cold night, but the Holy Spirit’s faith-heat pulls us with a gravitational-like force toward Him.
  • A campfire certainly captures our eyes, mesmerizing us for hours, but the Holy Spirit’s flame of hope takes hold of our souls – forever.
  • A campfire pulls us closer to one another around the circle, but the Holy Spirit’s love knits all our hearts together.

Thank you for staying on this Spirit-led journey with me as we’ve explored our trio of Christian graces. Before we step into the Advent season, let’s receive all that God has for us, immersing ourselves once more in the purifying flames of faith, hope, and love so that we come away transformed. Strengthened. Equipped. 

Faith’s Full Assurance

In chapter ten, the writer of Hebrews weaves our three-gifts-that-remain into an exhortative, benediction-like speech – building upon the preceding nine chapters’ case for why the new covenant is needed. Simply said, the old one fell short. But in Jesus, everything is fulfilled, completed, made righteous. 

What came before Jesus was good and right at each stage of God’s Redemptive Plan, but “the law [was] only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). Priests and animal sacrifices could never really take away sins (vv.4,11), nor could they create the reality that Jesus ushered into the world.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

So when the Holy Spirit testifies to us that God’s new covenant has been written on our hearts and minds, we can take this as truth (vv.15-16). As fact. As our reality.

Our sins have been forgiven! They’re no longer remembered by the Author and Perfecter of our faith (vv.17-18); therefore, we can enter the Most Holy Place with confidence (v.19). Just as we don’t have to keep sacrificing animals to get right with God, we also don’t need to beat ourselves up or clean ourselves up to enter God’s presence (v.22b). 

Christ has taken care of it all. And that’s faith’s assurance – we can “approach [God] with a sincere heart” (v.22a). Because Jesus.

This assurance strengthens each time we consume God’s truth. Without the nourishing Word in us, our faith can fade, just as a campfire’s flames die out without fresh logs to burn. We must feed the flames of our faith everyday, or our faith runs the risk of becoming cold. What fed our faith yesterday isn’t enough to nourish it today. 

Here’s a wild thought – the very act of stepping into God’s presence feeds us so that we can keep coming back to Him. The faith we need to come to our Father is perpetuated by the act of dwelling with Him.

Unwavering Hope

Our Hebrews author goes on to encourage us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (v.23). We know by now that ‘the hope’ is an anchored belief in Jesus, who is already our Savior and will be our Full Restorer upon our resurrection. ‘This hope’ is no whimsy-wish for something we don’t really believe will happen. This hope-in-Jesus is an unwavering trust that He is with us now and every day to come. 

In this season of uncovering all the ways I tend to misplace my hope, I’ve been addressing my habitual responses to life’s stresses that aren’t God-centric. Each time I hand over my lists and agendas and plans, I receive grace upon grace. And I feel my hope holding firm.

Friends, wherever we are, the Spirit desires to capture our attention and ignite the hope within us – the kind of hope that withstands stormy winds and rain. The kind of hope that trusts God because we’ve learned He is faithful to keep His promises (v.23). And where trust is growing, hope bursts into flame.

Spurring on Toward Love

Momentum builds as the benediction exhorts us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v.24). Love has so many facets. The Greek language, in which the New Testament was originally written, has multiple words for our one ‘love.’ 

Each of the Greek terms splinters off one of the layers of love – such as, eros, romantic love; philia, friendship or brotherly love; and storge, familial love. 

Our passage employs a fourth Greek word for love, agape, which is thought of as the most God-like love, full of good-will and benevolence. I have always been taught it’s the unconditional love between Christians. In other words, agape is given without any expectation of reciprocation. It’s given because it’s what “God prefers.”1  

It’s important for us to differentiate the kind of love we’re being called to as believers. It’s not that we aren’t meant to experience the other ‘flavors’ of love, but what God calls us to reigns above them all. Agape love motivates us for good deeds – and to spur one another on. 

I’m loving that this particular gift, the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13:13), is the one that we both receive and give. But, as wild as it is, it’s often harder for us to receive. Maybe it’s the maternal gene that pushes us to be givers. Or maybe it’s because somewhere deep down we believe we shouldn’t need anything from anyone (not true!). 

Whatever our reason for being reluctant receivers, we must accept the love God offers. Then, as we give it space to do its healing work in us, we can give it away. But if we don’t receive God’s love, then the love we offer isn’t His. It’s not agape. It’s a Shelley-brand (fill in your name) of love that comes with hidden motives and unloving expectations. 

Now. Here’s what this exhortation is not about – chastising ourselves for not loving well or criticizing ourselves for not getting this love thing right. With God there’s no guilt, no condemnation (Romans 8:1). With God, there’s grace. For us. For the world. 

Filled with this Spirit-laden love, we’ll be knit together and able to ignite agape love in each other! 

A Benediction

There’s one more verse in this semi-sermon that pulls in a theme we’ve been exploring the last two weeks – that of unity in the body of Christ, that of not “neglecting to meet together” (v.25). 

Having been made in the image of our Three-In-One God (Genesis 1:26), we’re hardwired for community. We need people. Specifically, we need to be with other Jesus followers, and coming together at the heart-and-soul level is just as important as physical presence.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

With that in mind, let’s pull our folding chairs closer to the campfire and consider this “meeting together.”2 Let’s imagine being with three or four people around a firepit whose flames have died out. We awkwardly lean in, unsure of ourselves, to see if there’s any hope of restarting the fire. Someone breathes on the embers as they introduce themselves, revealing hints of orange under the ashes. There’s some heat! With a little more confidence, we start talking, sharing bits of our under-the-surface lives. As we do so, we stoke the embers of the truth of the state of our souls – and a flame flickers. Then, we throw in some kindling as we speak of the sins that entangle us and the ways we’ve given up hope or lost faith or struggled to love. Now we’re fanning the flames. And the more we meet together – sharing, repenting, encouraging, praying – the more logs we add. The fire grows until it’s burning so bright others can see it. And over time, campfires around us start popping up until, one day, they combine as one big wall of fire, and it begins moving through families and churches and communities. A fire of faith blazes! Hope is not just reignited, it spreads. Love catches on. What began as a cooling campfire is now a red hot wildfire.3

With the Spirit at our center, ‘meeting together’ sparks spiritual growth. Coming together in our honesty and sincerity turns up the heat on spiritual lives that have struggled to stay lit. ‘Banding’ together strengthens our faith until it becomes our holy confidence.2 It sets our hope ablaze and fuels our agape love, which ignites other hearts with more faith, more hope, and more love.

Friends, receive this benediction knowing that God prefers it for you. Allow its truths to saturate your heart, mind, and soul in whatever state they’re in – because it’s a holy love that blows in like the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling you with a power to have faith again. Reigniting within you a hope that will forever burn bright.

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:22-25 NIV

Our new Advent series begins next week! A Thrill of Hope will span all five Sundays of December, bringing us up to the new year. Invite someone to join us on this adventure through an all-time favorite Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night!”

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • PS — I’m adding this note after I already had this scheduled, ready to go — because I read a “tweet” from Beth Moore the day after I wrote this that I want to share. Here’s the truth. After I labor over a post like this one, sometimes I can doubt that what I’ve said is good or right or needed. Then, the Lord will swoop in through someone else with a word that affirms it all. It’s like He’s saying, “Yup. You’re hearing right. Keep it going.” So. Here it is. This week’s confirmation that the Spirit is moving:
    “Love is intentional. It’s not just something you feel. Not just something you say. Not just something you do. It’s something you practice. Over & over. None of us is great at love by human nature. Enduring love comes by Holy Spirit nurture. Day in, day out. We cannot give what we will not receive.”
  • 1 – definition of agape
  • 2 – This ‘meeting together,’ or ‘banding,’ is discussed more in the resource section of the previous post. The campfire scene pretty well sums it up. 
  • 3 – Pastor and prayer leader, Pete Greig, helps to host an annual British prayer event called Wildfires. Its description is affirming for what we’ve been learning. We’re onto something! “Over the festival, thousands of all ages gather from different church expressions and communities, hungry to see revival in our time; gathering around Camp Fires that deepen friendships and community; pursuing together Holy Fire through worship, prayer and teaching; and encountering the Wild Fire of the Holy Spirit to take back to our homes, communities and our nations.”
  • Thirteen weeks of listening to our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist! You must be ready for a change. Never fear — an Advent playlist is near. I do have to say I love how things come together. The “From Whom All Blessings Flow Doxology” as our final Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist couldn’t be a more fitting benediction.
  • Did you receive our first ever The Abiding Life Newsletter? If not, you can subscribe here. It’ll hit your inbox the first week of each month, packed full of behind the scenes tidbits, sources for inspiration, and other exclusive info that I hope will help us engage more fully in this abiding life we seek. And, if you’d like to receive the first newsletter, just email me and I’ll get it to you.
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms — Well, did you find some time for some stillness last week? If not, don’t kick yourself — rather, calendar it out for the rest of December. It’s only going to get busier, and we need to feed our faith so that we run with agape love through the holidays. So that our hope-flames glow bright.
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

Reigniting Hope: Purifying Power

Peter continues what Paul began, teaching us that ‘reigniting our hope’ requires coming together with our Christian brothers and sisters. And not merely as a gathering for one hour a week. What they exhort us toward is genuine, mutual love.

If last week’s trio of Christians graces illustrated our unity as a body of Christ sourced and motivated by love, then this week’s gifts show us how to strengthen our faith and hope so that we love with sincerity and fervency. In other words, our love cannot simply claim that we have love for each other. Rather, we must actually love in such a way that it’s visible in all we do. It’s a unity that comes by purification:

“Through [Christ] you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”

1 Peter 1:21–22 NRSV

Why We Trust

Peter shows us yet another way faith and hope work in tandem by pointing out that when we give ourselves space to remember God’s work of raising and glorifying Jesus, we find the fuel we need to sustain our belief and hope in God.1 So, whenever we face trials and feel pain, there comes a point when we must choose whether or not we’re going to trust Him. 

For me, there was a day that I was, once again, fretting over my sons before the Lord. I wasn’t just concerned; I was spiraling. My anxious words tumbled out, harbored in fear. I finally took a deep enough breath that God got a word in. And boom! He very kindly but pointedly told me my worrying proved I was not trusting Him.

Since that day, I’ve been seeking ways to join God in the work He’s already doing rather than ‘worrying my prayers,’ as JD Walt calls it. I have also been looking to strengthen my trust in the Lord. 

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Amazingly, what Peter brings up about God raising Jesus from the dead and giving Him glory has helped me to better understand why we can trust God. And it has everything to do with power. 

Trusting the Almighty finds its roots in His constancy, His authority – and His power. When God, with His death-defeating domination, resurrected Jesus, sin and death were conquered. That same power brought about a transformation in Jesus that we call glorification. For forty days after stepping out of the tomb, He walked the earth in this glorified state. Then He was taken to heaven where He continues to rule and reign from His throne.

It’s easy to read over the facts of Jesus’ death, resurrection, glorification, and ascension because they’ve become so familiar. But when we read them with eyes of wonder, we allow the awe of the miraculous to overtake us. Sit with it a moment.

Do you feel the power? God brought Jesus’ dead body back to life! But not just as a regular human body like Jesus did for Lazarus, but as a glorified one. Real in the sense that Jesus could be seen, recognized, touched, and even fed. But glorified in the way He was made perfect – just as we will be perfected upon our own resurrection where our bodies will be made whole and no longer held in check by physical restraints, like time and space (Philippians 3:21). Like walls and locked doors (John 20:19). 

Peter wants us to know that by believing in Jesus, we. trust. God. And because we trust in God’s holy work of raising and glorifying Jesus, our faith and hope find a solid foundation onto which we can land again and again and again. The power by which God accomplished great works in Christ becomes the reason for our trust in God.

How We Obey

So, if God’s miracles through and in Christ are the why of our faith and hope in Him, then it’s the purification of our souls that becomes the how. Peter minces no words, telling us that it is “obedience to the truth” that purifies us. That little phrase contains some big words.

First, let’s establish what Peter means by ‘the truth.’  One commentator explains that “truth with the definite article is the sum of the contents of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ.”2 Ultimately, Jesus is ‘the Truth.’ ‘The truth’ is also the gospel that led us to making that first choice to believe Christ for our salvation. And, we can think of ‘the truth’ as everything Jesus spoke, lived, and called us to walk in. As such, ‘the truth’ becomes our guide for living, our pattern to imitate.2 

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Second, let’s unpack what Peter (and Jesus) mean by ‘obedience.’ At its core, ‘obedience’ is to actually do what’s been asked of us. In our Christian walk, God doesn’t ask us to be blind followers or robots who never think for ourselves. Rather, He offers us a mind and a will so we can choose. 

Thus, we can make the choices before us – the first one with justifying grace, where we believe ‘the truth.’ Then for the rest of our days we determine to walk with sanctifying grace to trust ‘the truth.’ And ultimately, we decide to obey ‘the truth.’ But there’s no obedience without trust. They work together, just as our three graces do. We trust and obey.3

So, each time our faith and hope come under fire, we get to choose. Will we trust? Will we obey? The process of surrendering our will for God’s – because of our trust in Him and our obedience to Him – repeats itself daily and becomes our means of purification.

Just as gold must be melted so that impurities will rise to the surface and be swept away, our faith and hope must go through the heat to be made pure. This method of refinement takes us through fires that cause us to endure the heat without being consumed4 – and each time we come out shimmering brighter because our graces, trust, and obedience become more and more genuine.5 

Picture it. You enter a refining season, enduring the pain of consequences or of living in a fallen world, and choose to trust that God is working for your good. As the days of immersion in His Word and presence go by, you begin to understand what it is He is trying to work out of you. You surrender to His loving hand, allowing His wisdom to draw out the impurity and His grace to remove it. Your will melts and molds into His so that what remains is a less selfish, less fearful, less shame-filled, less prideful kind of faith and hope. 

And as the molten gold of your heart and mind and soul cool, love keeps you malleable, able to be further shaped by the love of God and the love of your brothers and sisters.

Hope Rises Because We’re Together

Friends, faith begins at our point of conversion. And faith is meant to be the lifelong process of purification and strengthening so that our hope increases and our love abounds. It’s why Peter points out that the purifying of our faith and hope results in love. And not just any love, but genuine, mutual love for each other.

The deeper work of entering the rhythms of seeking God, reading His Word, getting still with Him, and listening to His voice can, and should, happen in our own quiet times. But they become amplified when we engage in such rhythms with other believers. 

I recently spoke with a friend about her small group that gathers not for social hour or even Bible study, but to enter the flames of purification together as they talk about challenges to their faith, victories in their journeys, and sins that trip them up.6 She was confessing to me her frustration about their lack of depth. Even after months of meeting, their conversations still felt a bit shallow.

And it occurred to me that just as each of us, individually, require much cleansing and shaping, so do we collectively. Just as each of us must trust God in this process of being purified, so must we trust each other. And all of it – the believing and the trusting and the going deeper – take time. Each person needs to feel the genuineness of love from the others. All of us require an enduring hope for what will be. 

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

So, we start with asking for holy discernment about who we’re to go deeper with. We take bold steps to invite others to join us in this ‘banding’ together.6 We step out in faith to be the one to share vulnerably and to ask loving questions. However slow the transformation may seem, we trust God, and we trust His process. 

Loving one another deeply at its purest is ‘banding’ together, but this kind of love can also look like forgiveness or helpfulness or extra grace. Loving from the heart may be visiting someone in the hospital or taking them to the doctor. It could be offering them a place to stay or giving them your car. Or even being the one who receives such love. No matter the shape love takes, all it requires is a trusting and obedient heart so that we can keep choosing God’s way every day! 

In whatever form this kind of ‘brotherly love’ shows itself, our hope rises because we know we don’t walk this life alone. Love that is patient and kind keeps us strong in every season because those seasons are shared. Love that is not self-seeking and keeps no records of wrongs has a pulling-together power that nothing can separate. Unifying love like this remains. Forever and ever, it remains.

Heavenly Father, it’s so much harder to actually trust You than to simply say we do. Yet we desire to trust You with every struggle, every concern, every hurt. So, each time we find ourselves worrying, we confess that our trust in You has wavered. We ask that the power in You that raised Jesus from the dead do a work in us – that of strengthening and purifying our faith in You. Lord Jesus, You demonstrated this kind of trust in the Father on the night You bowed in Gethsemane and asked for the cup of such excruciating pain to be passed from You. Like us, You had a choice in the matter. And You showed us how to align our will with the Father’s so that we can do the same. We can choose to trust and obey Him. Holy Spirit, You are that purifying power that dwells within us. Jesus shows us what we need to do, and You give the ability to do it – not in our own strength but in yours. That same power can make us wise and bold and brave as we step into relationships with other believers. We ask for your leading hand to guide us into those holy friendships that burn with purifying glory. We ask for your love to unify us so that every prayer, every truth, and every hope binds us together in Jesus’ name. And, we ask for grace to sustain us as we work together to love one another with genuine affection so that every season of refinement can be amplified and multiplied through the Body of Christ. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
(inspired by 1 Peter 1:21-22; 1 John 1:9; Ephesians 1:18-20; Matthew 26:36-46; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; Ephesians 4:3,12; 2 Corinthians 6:1) 

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – commentaries on 1 Peter 1:2122, specifically the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary.
  • 2 – commentaries on 1 Peter 1:22, specifically MacLaren’s Expositions.
  • 3 – It always amazes me how often the words ‘trust’ and ‘obey’ arrive together. And, of course, every time they do, I start humming the hymn by the same title. The lyrics of “Trust and Obey” were penned by the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister, in 1886. I love how this particular stanza fits today’s topic:

    Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet
    Or we’ll walk by His side in the way
    What He says we will do, where He sends we will go
    Never fear, only trust and obey
  • 4 – Like the burning bush in Exodus 3!
  • 5 – Gold and the way it’s refined has fascinated me for years. In fact, I did a deep dive into my research on it, thinking this post might be shaped by the refining process because so much of what gold must go through to be purifies mirrors our own refining process. But. For now, this will have to do. 😉
  • 6 – The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, developed a method of discipleship with three layers: the Society, the Class Meeting, and the Band — and they descend respectively in size so that the smallest, the ‘band,’ is about 3-5 people who take the deepest dive — though all three are necessary and good. offers more information and resources if you have further questions or interest about the ‘band’ — their Discipleship Bands website, explanatory videos, and an app (for Apple and for Android).
  • The song, “Refiner” from Maverick City Music captures the heart of what Peter is trying to teach us about God’s purifying fires. You can look up their song on Spotify and follow along with the lyrics to get the full effect. Honestly, it’s a great prayer — “I wanna be tried by fire. Purified. You take whatever you desire. Lord, here’s my life.” I include a version of “Refiner” on our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist from the Prestonwood Choir. I like their take on it — plus it wasn’t twelve minutes. LOL
  • Well! Did you get it? Did you receive our first ever The Abiding Life Newsletter? If not, you can subscribe here. It’ll hit your inbox the first week of each month, packed full of behind the scenes tidbits, sources for inspiration, and other exclusive info that I hope will help us engage more fully in this abiding life we seek. And, if you’d like to receive the first newsletter, just email me and I’ll get it to you.
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms — Well, it’s safe to say we’ve entered the holiday season, which is such a mixed bag of emotions, stress, and blessings! I know it seems impossible to find time for our rhythm of stillness, but if we neglect it, we’ll feel the lack of awareness of God’s presence with us throughout our days. Getting still doesn’t have to be fancy or formal. It can look like pushing pause long enough to refocus our hearts and minds and souls on the One who has everything we need, who IS everything we need. Here’s a prayer that JD Walt has been inviting his readers into every morning — it’s easy to adopt as your own. Don’t forget to breathe! XOXO

    Jesus, I belong to You.
    I lift my heart to You.
    I set my mind on You.
    I fix my eyes on You.
    I offer my body to You as a living sacrifice.
    Jesus, we belong to You.
    We’re praying in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Brian Penny on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

Reigniting Hope: Stronger Together

We began this Reigniting Hope series ten weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been wrestling with how to stoke the flames of hope within us while there is so much in the world, our families, and even our own hearts that rises up to extinguish the hope we desire. 

Together, we’ve been learning how faith, hope, and love are gifts meant to become our sources, fuel, anchors, and outcome. And now, we’re ready to receive another key element to reigniting hope – oneness. 

This week we turn our eyes back to Paul, back to the beginning of our series when we read his Love Chapter to discover that faith, hope, and love are the three gifts that remain (1 Corinthians 13:13). Only this time we’ll unpack the context of this foundational statement in order to understand that faith, hope, and love – by their very existence as a trio of graces – demonstrate to us the necessity of sticking together as believers of Jesus. 

Context, Context, Context

Paul packed his letter to the Corinthians with exhortations to help them realign with Christ rather than the world’s ways because the church had so much coming against them, especially from within. 

Specifically, their conflict over spiritual gifts divided them. And, the way they dismissed one another based on their imagined hierarchy of giftings was extinguishing the work of the Spirit in them and through them.

Paul employed the ‘body’ metaphor to emphasize that every gift matters so that the parts could function as a whole. He wrote many words explaining how gifts are designed to work – as a unifying, edifying package that blesses everyone in the church. 

By the end of what we know as chapter twelve, Paul’s list of gifts, though not exhaustive, drives home his point that there is not one gift that is meant to be elevated over the others.  

Then, he abruptly ends with, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts” (v.31a). 

If we don’t keep reading-on into chapter thirteen, we might think Paul has contradicted himself. But, as we continue, we hear more of the same language. He teaches how annoying and useless we become if we use our gift of tongues without love (13:1). Or how gifts are worthless unless they are shared in love (v.2). The descriptions, the lists continue as Paul comes back to his point that there are greater gifts. They’re ‘greater’ because they are for the greater good; they keep our motives pure; and they go with us into eternity.

By the time we get to the familiar line, these three remain, we hit our foreheads with understanding. Oh! The ‘greater gifts’ (12:31) are faith, hope, and love (13:13).

As simple as Paul’s words are for us, they’re also profoundly important to our walk with Christ. Faith, hope, and love should always be what we seek – above and beyond what’s comfortable or habitual or just plain ol’ preferred.


  • Because when we move through our days faced with turmoil and challenges and frustration, FAITH in the Lord helps us trust Him and keeps us drawing near to Him. 
  • Because when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and are tempted to withdraw out of self-preservation, LOVE from the Lord sustains us and moves out toward others.
  • Because when the engulfing flames of cynicism and despair surround us, HOPE in Christ strengthens us and helps us to keep moving forward despite what we see and feel.

No matter the size of the fires of trauma or doubt or regret or shame or fear, faith and hope and love remain. Always and forever, these three remain.

And, they knit us together into one body.

Photo by Ivanka Krochak on Unsplash

On Repeat

Paul’s message to the Corinthians shows up again in his letter to the Ephesians, albeit in a more condensed way:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2-6*

Because we know the Corinthians’ context, our ears pick up on a similar situation for the Ephesians. They, too, face division within the ranks. Whatever the source of this church’s conflict, the message is the same. Bear with one another in love. Keep the unity of the Spirit

Paul goes on saying that there is one body – one Spirit – one Lord. One hope. One faith. 

If we’re honest, we can admit we need the same message in our Christian gatherings and churches today. This message of oneness needs to be played on repeat. Without it, we get off track – our human tendencies takeover even though God calls us to a higher way of walking through the world.

The Threats

Recognizing that these messages of unity in the body of Christ are universal, it’s wise for us to acknowledge the threats that come against such oneness. Within each of us are toxins like pride, fear, envy, greed, shame (fill in your blank) that will consume us – individually and collectively – if we don’t keep them doused by God’s Spirit and Word.1

Hope will not survive unless we obediently step into God’s presence and allow His grace to cover everything that comes against the goodness He desires to do in us and through us.

And, y’all – this isn’t a one and done type thing. The language of following Jesus as a journey is appropriate because each and every day we need to be intentional to fall in behind Him on the narrow road, surrendering our self-preservation tendencies for His Way and laying down our plans for His. 

The dailiness of walking in God’s sanctifying grace is the only way to come against the threats to our unity, to give our trio of Christian graces space to do their work in us, and to fan the flames of hope back to life.

Jesus’ Prayer

Paul’s words to the Corinthians and Ephesians find their origin in Jesus’ prayer, in His final moments alone with His disciples. Praying aloud, He asks God for His believers to “be one” just as He and His Father “are one” (John 17:21). He prays that believers would be “in us” and “one as we are one” (v.21). Jesus seeks to be in us just as God is in Him so that we would be brought to complete unity (vv.22-23).

His parting words to His followers and to us are not about how to preach or how to interpret Scripture or even how to evangelize. It’s a prayer for unity in the body of Christ.

Why? Because it’s so stinkin’ important. In another conversation, Jesus talks about how a house divided cannot stand (Matthew 12:25). We can apply the same logic here. Friends, if we continue to live as a gathering of believers that only knows conflict, we’ve built our house on sand (Matthew 7:26-27). And we won’t remain standing.

Rather than putting our focus on ‘being right’ about the style of worship that’s ‘most holy’ or the kind of baptism that’s best or the spiritual gift that’s most prominent (fill in your blank), we should be fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Because when our minds are set on Him, those greater gifts can knit us together. They can make us one.

Trinity Unity

Oneness is a bond. Like the threads in Ecclesiastes,2 we are sturdier and more secure when two are together. And when we bring in a third strand, we’re stronger yet – especially if that third strand is the Lord. 

When I was a 20-something leader of a women’s group, the spiritual mothers around me continually prayed for ‘Trinity unity’ within our homes, our group, and our church. At first, this language was foreign to me, yet my spirit resonated with it. I felt the truth of it. And over the years, I’ve come to see how perfectly unified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. No jealousy rages among them. No pride prohibits plans. No insecurity gives way to temptation. The Three who are most whole and holy work seamlessly together.

They become our model for what it looks like to live in the unity Jesus desires for us. They illustrate the truth of strength when bonded together by Spirit and Word.1 Friends, we will never be strong enough to stand against the lies, temptations, and accusations of the enemy when we’re alone. Which is why the enemy would love nothing more than to isolate us. Like a prowling lion, he knows that it’s much easier to pick us off one-by-one when we we’re the stragglers at the back of the pack. He knows that the best way to destroy the mission of Christ is to divide the Church.

Friends, our hope will only burn brighter and hotter when we are one with other believers and Christ.

So, here’s to taking the narrow road. Here’s to choosing the three that remain. Here’s to being brave enough to lay down pride and fear and shame so that we can be part of the body of Christ as He intended it – because we’re stronger together! 

Heavenly Father, thank You for sending your Son, the Word, and your Spirit. Their presence in our lives is invaluable. Their truths are impenetrable. Their holiness is pure enough to withstand anything we could bring into our relationship with You. Thank You for creating each of us to be in y’all’s image so that we can live out the Trinity unity that You all exhibit every moment of every day, showing us the power of being one with each other just as You are one with one another. Lord Jesus, we’re so grateful for the prayer You spoke over us so long ago. Thank You for inspiring Paul to put in writing all the exhortations of living in unity as your Body. They help us see where we’ve taken a step or two off the narrow road, allowing secondary and tertiary things come between us, to distract us, and to cause us to fall. We want to stand with You at the center of all that we are. Holy Spirit, lead us into full repentance individually for all the ways we’ve separated ourselves from holy community. Lead us into repentance corporately for all the ways we’ve allowed conflict and hurt and disappointment to weaken us as your Church. We long to be brought into complete unity so that we might stand strong together in faith, hope, and love – so that we might actually become the salt and light of Christ in the world. Show us what threatens to divide us. Reveal to us what keeps us from coming together. And seal us in Trinity unity for the good of God’s kingdom. In Jesus’ name.
(inspired by Ephesians 1:13; John 16:13; Psalm 119:160; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Genesis 1:26; John 17:21-23; 1 Corinthians 12-13; Ephesians 4:2-6; Matthew 7:13-14, 26-27; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Romans 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Matthew 5:13-14) 

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • *if you read the rest of Ephesians 4, you hear more about spiritual gifts
  • 1 – This week JD Walt had some great words to say about how the Spirit and Word work together, Jesus “is the Word made flesh and on him the Spirit dwells without measure. That’s why we say the core value of the kingdom of Jesus is the ministry of the Word and Spirit.” He goes on — “Jesus of Nazareth, the risen and ascended Lord, is present to us by the power of Word and Spirit. …As we walk in this way we have two primary responsibilities: 1. Be responsive to what the Word of God has revealed. 2. Be responsive to what the Holy Spirit is revealing.” The entire post is awesome, and if you’ve never listened to JD as he shares the Wake Up Call, well, you might wanna try. 😉
  • 2 – Though one may be overpowered,
        two can defend themselves.
    A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
    Ecclesiastes 4:12
  • Our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist is one of our longer playlists — mainly because this happens to be a rather long series. LOL. But also because there’s just so much to be discovered about these amazing three gifts that remain. A lot of these songs are packed with Scripture, and all of them convey truths to support everything we’ve been learning. So, how much MORE will we take in all this goodness than to sing along to music that pours out God’s message to us in a way we’ll remember!
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms — Our rhythm this fall, stillness, has a deceptively easy ring to it. “Ah, get still. I can do that,” we say. That is, until we realize just how hard it is to actually make time to do so everyday. That is, until we discover the difficulty of getting our minds to stop spinning. That is, until we admit that getting still with our emotions and thoughts in the presence of God scares us. It’s why we must practice. We start small and build ourselves up — a little everyday. We TRUST that God’s got us. That He loves us. That He wants only good for us. All that helps us put to rest the fears holding us back. When we give space for the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, we finally get to see how good it is for us to get still — we figure out there’s nothing to actually fear. We experience the truth that faith, hope, and love are GIFTS. And they remain, just as we remain in Christ. So. Let’s get still before the Lord! XOXO
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

Reigniting Hope: A Map to Follow

As the events in our homes and cities and world continue to escalate, we struggle to find our footing. We strive to keep hold of hope, to keep believing in a God we cannot see. But, nothing tests our faith like suffering. 

  • Physical pain that intensifies or refuses to recede chisels our rock of resolve a sliver at a time. 
  • Emotional pain, at first blow, can be stuffed and ignored – until it can’t. All our denials to acknowledge that the hurt exists ends up exploding all over those we care for most. 
  • Spiritual pain is subtle and easy to miss because we lump it into the emotional bin. But when we don’t recognize and deal with anger we harbor toward God or His Church, with the bombardment of enemy-accusations, or with the nagging doubt that threatens to become unbelief, we suffer.

And all the unnamed, unresolved pain eats away at the foundation of our faith until it has nothing on which to stand.

It’s why we spend time investigating Scripture. It’s why we dig deeper into God’s brand of hope. It’s why we turn to those who’ve gone before us, like Paul – because they demonstrate faith in the midst of suffering. They show us how to persevere with hope. They remind us what it is to love like Jesus.

The Context

One of the churches founded by Paul, located in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki, was packed full of people, politics, and business exchanges. The Thessalonians stood proudly upon their loyalty to Caesar, so when the sect of Jesus followers began proclaiming Christ as king, the gospel turned into a threat to Caesar’s rule.1 As a result, Paul became a wanted man and only managed to stay with his new converts a few weeks before having to flee the city. When roadblocks prevented him from returning, Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to see how they fared and to encourage them (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2,5). The long wait for news about the Thessalonians distressed Paul:

“I couldn’t quit worrying; I had to know for myself how you were doing in the faith. I didn’t want the Tempter getting to you and tearing down everything we had built up together.”

1 Thessalonians 3:5 MSG

Unable to be with his hurting flock, Paul fretted much about these new converts who were leaderless, persecuted, and ostracized socially.1 He was dying to know if they remained strong in their faith.

Paul’s agonizing wait finally ended with Timothy’s arrival with word that, indeed, the believers stood firm, “exhibiting the virtues of genuine Christianity: faith, love, and steadfastness, the product of hope.”1  And Paul could not contain his gratitude, which is why the opening of this first letter to the Thessalonians is emotionally charged with thankfulness and joy, leading us to our verse for the week:

“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV

Work Produced by Faith

We have been exploring our trio of Christian graces for many weeks now, so maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise that Paul would use faith, hope, and love as the measure for genuine Christianity. What might be interesting is how Paul breaks them down. 

First, I find it curious how Paul juxtaposes two words that often seem to be the center of much contention in the Church: ‘faith’ and ‘work.’ However, without explanation, Paul merely puts the debate to rest when he praises what he sees in this healthy church: work produced by faith. This is not ‘works righteousness’ that tries to earn grace but effort that flows from faith in Christ. This is “not the dead works of the Law or the barren works of carnality” but work that is sourced by the Holy Spirit dwelling in a believer.2 It’s a producing done with purity of heart – without selfish ambition or expectation of recompense.

The kind of work varies from person to person because God has prepared good things for each of us to do (Ephesians 2:10). What matters more than the type of work is the surrendered heart behind it. And the way the Thessalonians set about doing good works reflects Holy Spirit direction and Heavenly Father inspiration, thus giving Paul assurance of their true faith.

Labor Prompted by Love

The Thessalonians’ labor prompted by love becomes further proof of their steadfastness. We could split hairs about the difference between ‘work’ and ‘labor,’ saying that the Greek for ‘work,’ ergon, means “task, employment; a deed, action” – while the Greek for ‘labor,’ kopos, means “laborious toil, involving weariness and fatigue.”3 But, whether we’re talking about simple tasks or labor that wears out a person, the emphasis is ‘love.’ For, with love, all work and labor is for God and out of gratitude to Him. The love we receive from Him is unwavering and unconditional. As a result, we love Him and His people in the same way (re: 1 Corinthians 13). 

“Laboring in love is prompted by the knowledge that all we are and all we have is from the Lord. The more we know of God’s goodness and grace towards us, the more we are prompted to labor in love for the Lord.”3 

I can’t help but think of a parent’s love. When Larry and I became parents, there was nothing we wouldn’t do for our boys. 

  • Our love drove us to stay up all night when one of the boys was sick, cleaning up stinky messes that would normally have us running the other way. And the next day, the weary son would hug our necks with weepy gratitude.
  • Our love pushed us to fight for them despite the fact that we’re peacemakers at heart, and their response was to appreciate our devotion – and to become fighters for others. 
  • Our love caused us to sacrifice our own needs for theirs, which hardly went noticed by the boys. But we did it anyway. 

My comparison falls short when we consider not all human parents are moved by such love because of deeper brokenness, but with God – with God, His love is always pure and good and His reason for holding us close.

When we feel such pure, poured-out love, we respond, like the Thessalonians, with a gratitude that propels us with love toward others. Such labors of love reflect genuine faith.

Endurance Inspired by Hope

The third gift of the “three that remain,” ‘hope’ becomes visible in the way believers endure suffering, persecution, and trials. Paul’s assurance in their unwavering faith solidified when he heard stories of the way they persevered in the face of great pain. Nothing shook their foundation. Their faith stood firm because of their enduring power of hope in Christ. 

The certainty of who God is, the trustworthiness of His Word, and the belief in the return of His Son carried this group of believers when everything and everyone else around them questioned their choices, beliefs, and actions. Their confidence did not waver. Their hope held like a sturdy anchor in a storm because of promises for a better future with Jesus. And that future hope becomes a “present reality in the prayers of the apostles.”1 

We can look to the Thessalonians and find a true Christianity upon which to model our hope. 

  • This group faced consternation about their odd beliefs because they stood out – they looked different from the culture around them. 
  • They were forced to the margins of society, picked on, targeted, and completely misunderstood. 
  • They had no written Bible, not even a trusted local pastor, yet they sunk everything they had in what Paul had taught them and in how the Spirit led them. 
  • They endured because they leaned into the practices handed down to them – like prayer, fasting, and gathering together for worship, study, and the act of remembrance. 
  • They persevered in the struggles because they’d put their entire hope in a Savior who met them where they were in the everyday moments and who would take them home on the much anticipated Day.

Then Paul, in his joy and exuberance at the news of this church’s burgeoning faith, put all the details into a letter, forever capturing the truths of what a true Christian walk looks like. Paul’s indelible marks leave for us a map to follow as we seek to live as followers of Christ in the truest of ways – each way marked by a spiritual gift we’ve come to know as the trio of Christian graces. They source us. They motivate us. And, they guide us in the way to live most fully for Jesus.

Father God, our eyes are opening to the realities of the spiritual nature of our struggles. We’re beginning to understand the impact that all categories of pain have on our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits. And, we see now how often the Tempter tries to get to us and tear down everything we’ve built together. So, we choose to keep our minds set on You, our eyes fixed on You, our bodies offered to You as living sacrifices – because we see the absolute necessity of such focus and surrender if we’re to continue holding firm to our faith. Lord Jesus, You are the Way. The only way to endure with hope. You are the Truth. The only truth that is able to sustain our faith. You are the Life. The only life that stems from love and shows up as love. Thank You for using people like Paul, Timothy, and the Thessalonians to demonstrate for us that we are not alone in our struggles and that there is hope in trusting You. Thank You that these people of genuine Christian faith show us how to live with hope and with as set apart people for You. Holy Spirit, all this surrendering and dwelling and choosing only happens because of You and your presence in us. We ask You to speak louder and lead with bold clarity so that we never have an excuse to veer off the narrow road. Keep nudging us to do work produced by faith, to labor for Christ out of love, and to endure with hope because of the faithfulness of Jesus and the prayers of the saints. Thank you for each spark that reignites our hope. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
(inspired by Ephesians 6:12; James 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; Isaiah 26:3; Hebrews 12:2; Romans 12:1; John 14:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Matthew 7:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, pages 1437-8.^
  • 2 – article on our verse
  • 3 – interlinear Greek for 1 Thessalonians 1
  • Here’s a great resource that combines both elements of hope and suffering, and it’s with one of my favorite theologians, Lisa Harper. It’s the October 2nd episode of her Back Porch Theology podcast with guest Dr. Curt Thompson, called “Suffering and the Formation of Hope.”
  • There’s a song on our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist that can become an anthem for us as we keep choosing to set our minds on the Lord and put our hope in Him — “Not Consumed” by Chandler Moore. It even has this cool beat to it that feels like we’re marching with all the other believers and chanting all the truths that build our faith. So good.
  • What to watch for and anticipate:
    • My very first edition of my The Abiding Life newsletter hits inboxes this week. Eek! Can’t wait to have another avenue to engage with you. Let me know what you think and what you’d like to see included in this monthly email.
    • Advent is nearer than I can even fathom. But, the big reveal of this year’s Advent series title and theme will be in the newsletter. It all gets going December 3rd.
    • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms — It’s hard to imagine how life can ramp up after all the busy and intense we’ve been walking through, but it is about to get holiday-crazy. So, in this set-apart life of ours, we’re going to need those intentional moments of stillness more than ever. Rest. Refocus. Receive. Realign. These are the rhythms of getting still. Let’s do this!
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by oxana v on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit

Reigniting Hope: Holy Preparedness

Lately I’ve found myself in “preparation mode,” which is not unusual for this Planner. But I’ve been learning throughout my fifty-four years that there’s a difference between being prepared and putting my hope in the plans I’ve created. 

So, as I read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, I recognize his voice of encouragement for the anxious and highly persecuted church in Greece. For this band of believers, their unstated lament of brokenness begs to know when the relief will come – almost as though they can ‘plan their hope’ to endure if they know how long.

Paul reminds them, however, what Jesus taught – we don’t know when. Not even Jesus knew the answer to that question (Matthew 24:36). As such, Paul picks up the lessons that Jesus passed on about being ready, day or night, for His return: Have those oil lamps filled and burning (Matthew 25:6-13). Watch and pray (Mark 13:32-37). Be awake and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6)! In other words, “Preparedness does not come by speculations about when that day will arrive.”1 

In our generation, we may not face persecution like the early Christians, but there is much happening in us and around us to make this life difficult. We watch with a deep knowing that this is not how it’s meant to be. We anguish with hearts that cry out for Christ to return. And though it’s tempting to want to spend our time calculating the events of the world eschatologically, the truth is we won’t know when the End Days will be; therefore, our best bet is to live our lives for Christ with faith, hope, and love – so that we’re always ready for Him.

Spiritual Protection

With conflicts escalating in the world, our hearts resonate with the Thessalonians more than they ever have. We take in the images of profound desolation, human displacement, and absolute destruction – and our emotions overwhelm us. Maybe some of us even ask the same question, Lord, when will You return to make everything right? 

But, just like those in Thessaloniki twenty centuries ago, Paul’s words are meant to encourage us, as well:

“You are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. …Let us who live in the light be clear headed, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. …Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:5-6, 8, 10-11 NLT

Perhaps what war and threats of war do more for us than anything is wake us up. Suddenly, the creature-comforts we thought we couldn’t live without seem frivolous. The plans for elaborate vacations feel selfish. The desires for more wealth, more success, more friends pale in comparison to what others in the world lack. The Spirit is prodding us – not with guilt – but with awareness that there is more to our lives here on earth than ourselves. In fact, there’s more to life than what we see with our eyes. In another letter, Paul comes right out and says it:

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:12

Though the battles on earth are fierce and awful, the real fighting happens in the spiritual realm. The prophet Elisha helps us understand this truth:

“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?’ the servant asked.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’

And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

2 Kings 6:15-17

Those horses and chariots of fire were there the entire time. Only when the Lord removed the veil did the servant see the spiritual army ready to fight for them.

Melani Pyke at

Spiritually speaking, nothing has changed since Elisha’s day. Those same armies are ready to fight for the people of God – believers in Christ who no longer make up one nation but are scattered throughout every nation. Those armies are vast and strong. As in stronger than any force on earth.

This – THIS – is where our hope is to be placed. Not in what we see, but in what we know to be true. It’s why Paul, and other apostles like Peter, consistently point us to the spiritual gifts and traits we need to find protection in the battles we face.2 It’s also why they utilize a soldier’s armor as their metaphor. They want us to be battle ready!

In the NIV, verse eight of our first Thessalonians passage more accurately captures the truth that “the trilogy of faith, love, and hope is the vital element of the armor:”1 

”But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”  

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Think about everything we’ve been learning about our trio of Christian graces – how they work together to source us with everything we need and strengthen us for all we face. Together they become our spiritual protection. 

Like a breastplate, faith and love work to shield our hearts from the attacks of the enemy. Like a helmet, hope covers our minds with the truth that we are already saved! Which is why Paul goes on to say that whether we’re dead or alive, we will live with Jesus forever (v.10). The miracle of living in the established hope of what’s to come bolsters our hearts and minds with hope for everything we face in the here and now.

Take heart, friends. Bonded with love, faith becomes “a real, live shield; not a sentimental hopefulness, but a Spirit-fueled, tangible reality. Faith is palpable protection.”3 This spiritual shield “graces us with the power to lay down all our tired strategies of self-protection. Self-protection in exchange for God’s protection.”3 

Spiritual Preparedness

Knowing that the greater battle is in the spiritual realm and that we are protected helps us believe what Paul is trying to teach about spiritual preparedness. And, his words are meant to encourage us, just as they did the first century Thessalonians: 

  • Instead of worrying, Paul exhorts us to keep our eyes open and be smart – not sleepwalk through life (v.6 MSG). 
  • Instead of trying to determine what “the days” are telling us about Christ’s return, we are to “walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation” (v.8 MSG). 
  • Instead of hiding alone in our homes, we are to move toward one another in hope so that we’ll all “be together in this, no one left out” (v.11 MSG).

So. When the news reflects to us images of the terrifying and heart-wrenching, when our personal lives feel dark and hopeless, and when we’re tempted to take things into our own hands, we can choose to turn our eyes and feelings and thoughts to Christ. We can recall that we worship the Light of the World, who died so death could be defeated, who resurrected from the dead so we can have life fully – now and eternally (John 10:10). 

The power that raised Christ from the dead resides in us (Ephesians 1:19-20)! And that power enables us to do more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20) – to keep moving forward, to step out of fear and into Christ’s love, to trust that the ultimate victory is already won, and to join the work already happening in the spiritual realm around us.

The best way to enter into such holy work is to pray. By ‘pray,’ I don’t mean putting voice to our worries over and over and over, like kneading bread – JD Walt calls this “worrying our prayers.” By ‘pray,’ I mean stepping into the power we’ve been given and contending for those who need Christ’s love and power most. This kind of praying is battling in the spiritual realm. It’s putting on that armor and getting into the fray, praying protection, in Jesus’ name. Praying provision, in Jesus’ name. Praying peace, in Jesus’ name.

Friends, Christ has gone before us, and He has provided us with power for spiritual preparedness. With that power we can refocus our gaze off all that overwhelms us and onto the One who holds everything we need to endure with hope. We can wake up from the slumber that fear, anxiety, and comfort have been quietly lulling us into to live with the power we’ve been given. We can join the fiery army of heaven and fight for what is good. 

This is holy preparedness.

As we put our energy into being light in the world, encouraging other believers, and engaging in the spiritual battles through prayer, we’ll no longer be distracted by all the “what ifs” or tempted to try to number the days until Jesus returns. Instead, we’ll fight the good fight knowing we are protected and prepared by the faith, love, and hope given to us by Christ.

Father God, thank You for giving us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we can know You better. We pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened so we’ll know the hope You have called us to, which are the riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people and your incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is same strength You put to work when You raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked – not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Father, You placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. How incredible to think the same fullness and power of Christ reside within us! And are always for us! Lord Jesus, in You we place our hope, remembering that the victory has already been won because of You. In You we put on our shields of faith and love so that our hearts continually know your protection. We release every desire and inclination to make plans, to self-preserve. Instead, we name our fears, we speak our anxious thoughts, we verbalize every feeling of guilt and shame and regret as the means of lamenting and laying down. Then we pick up faith like a shield and choose to trust You. Holy Spirit, how we need You. Every hour we need You. Not a minute goes by that we aren’t assailed by doubts and debilitating emotions. So we thank You for the power You infuse into our hearts and minds and souls. We thank You for the hope that strengthens us to persevere with faith and love. Each day we know God’s mercies are new, so we continue to set our minds on Him through your presence and power. And by living out of such faith, hope, and love, we know that we’re not only protected but completely prepared for what this life throws at us and for life with Christ.* It’s in His name we pray, amen.
(inspired by Ephesians 1:17-23; 1 John 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Psalm 46:1-3; Romans 15:13; Isaiah 40:31; Lamentations 3:22-23)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • *I don’t know about you, but that last line really gets to me – I find myself asking, do I really believe that? Am I living as though I believe that? It’s been a rough week, and I’ve been tempted to live out of my emotions and churning thoughts. So this part of the prayer that so easily flowed from my fingers is now what I choose to pray until I believe it. Lord, let it be so for each one of us!
  • 1 – The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, pages 1437-8.^
  • 2 – Peter, in our passage two weeks ago, teaches that ”through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5); and Paul goes deeper into spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:13-17. Other places Paul uses military metaphors to describe what we have at our access to stand firm, to fight, to hope = Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7, 10:3-5; Philippians 2:25; and 2 Timothy 2:3-4.
  • 3. – JD Walt of Seedbed’s Wake Up Call, specifically March 17, 2021
  • What song from our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist do you keep going back to? This week, it’s Bristol House’s “Altars.” It’s a place to begin praying…

    Here’s my altar made for you
    In this moment I will choose you
    Let surrender be my song
    Lay aside the things I want — for You
    It’s all for You
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms — Here’s a wild observation. What if some of our distracted, hurried way of living is about us trying to avoid the harder feelings, the deeper truths? My getting still with the Lord this week hasn’t been a peaceful time but moments of ugly tears and sobs. But in the stillness, I’ve been able to name what hurts, admit my thoughts (which, of course, is what He knows I need to do for my own sake), and lament — and in doing so, I’m finding an ever-inching-closer healing. Even in the stillness of sitting down to write this post, I’m rediscovering the truth of everything God has been showing us. To be as spiritually whole as possible, we have to get still — so that we can get real with God and ourselves — and let hope do its work in us. And HOW TRUE are Isaiah’s words!?! “Those who put their hope in the Lord find strength.” XOXO
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit

Reigniting Hope: Burning Love

Moses might be the most known and respected man of all the Old Testament. Yet, the biblical hero who confronted Pharaoh, met with God, and led the Israelites to the Promised Land had a shady start. Murderous, in fact. You see, when he came of age as an adopted son of Pharaoh, Moses began to wrestle with his humble beginnings as a ‘hated’ Hebrew. The call to be the rescuer of his biological people began to burn within him (Acts 7:25), so he took walks among them, observing their enslaved state until anger arose at the injustice of it all. His temper flared – and he killed an abusive Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12).

Word got out. And Moses fled. Not just the scene but the entire land of Egypt. 

FORTY years later, God showed up, grabbing Moses’ attention by igniting a bush on Mount Sinai with flames that burned bright and hot yet did not consume the tiny tree (Exodus 3:2). And, the rest is history.

  • Moses, afraid and ashamed, knew what it was like to hit rock bottom. 
  • Moses, broken and bewildered, knew the sting of seeing the horrific treatment of others.
  • Moses, confused and conflicted, knew the depths of suffering and the agony of guilt.

Moses may have risen to the occasion, eventually, but his humble and hard beginnings reveal to us that there is hope for every single one of us as we seek the Lord by faith – first and most – and as we receive His healing, sustaining love.

Burning Bushes

Shifting our focus onto ourselves for a moment, can we just say the past few years have been brutal? Collectively, we have witnessed floods and fires, volcanoes that spew, hurricanes that slam, and viruses that shut the world down. We have watched with shock as divisions in the political arena have split and spiraled beyond the imaginable. We have wavered somewhere between horror and hostility as bully nations attack smaller ones and terrorists terrorize at new levels.

In our personal lives we face conflicts in marriage and struggles with mental health. Finances stress and health issues strain. Collectively, we’ve been dubbed the loneliest generations to ever live on earth, yet work-from-home is on the rise and many churches can’t fill their pews. We’re “spiritual, not religious.” We’re “tolerant,” but not loving. We’re angry. Confused. Sad.

And, we’re tempted to believe the mantra being shouted over us – there’s no hope. But. We know differently! After spending the better part of a year searching Scripture for what hope looks like and how to live in it, we know, for a fact, that for believers of the One True God there is always hope.

Even with the gift of hope, however, we have moments and seasons when we just need to lament. And despite the fact that the idea of lamenting has shown up more on this site in 2023 than all the other years added up, we (I) still struggle with how. to. lament. So, this week, we take a left turn and head to the Old Testament for help – to the book of Lamentations. 

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope (yachal):
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait (yachal) for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope (qavah) is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26 NIV (additions mine)

This week’s passage is rooted in the lament of one who has been swallowed by the “utter lostness” of life and whose affliction is so consuming that it tastes like ashes and feels like poison (The Message, v.19). We witness the authentic and vulnerable state of the author as he has come before the Lord – to the degree that it might seem a little melodramatic to us, that is, until we recall the times we have felt the same.

After the pouring out and lamenting, the author speaks of hope. He remembers that because of God’s great love, he is not consumed (v.22). Which makes me think of the flames of Moses’ blazing bush, the fire that engulfed the leaves and limbs yet never devoured them. It burned but did not consume

In much the same way, our sufferings are like the flames of the burning bush – they’re hot and bothersome and even threatening, but when we receive God’s love, we have the means of not being burnt to a crisp. 

Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash

God’s love protects, sustains, and heals. His love surrounds us, becoming our shield. It fills us like oxygen, keeping us breathing and moving through the flames. Every fire we face might burn us, but the pouring out of God’s love becomes a salve that cools and restores. His love is our hope for all the ‘new’ that He’ll bring into being – beauty from the proverbial ashes.

Glowing Faces

The writer of Lamentations offers insight as to whom such hope is given. Did you catch it? To those who seek God (v.25). This idea becomes a great theme throughout Jesus’ teachings (ie: Matthew 6:33). In fact, every time we read phrases like “fix your eyes on Jesus,” it’s a reminder to us of where we’re meant to be.

Moses models for us what it looks like to get alone with God – and it’s an intentional time away from the bickering, begging people and the slugfest of life. Moses shows us that we are to draw near, be still, and know. He. is. God (Psalm 46:10). 

I can hear you – who has time? We all live the demands of life and know the stresses of full calendars and looming deadlines. We all fight the same temptations to escape and numb. But the truth is we’re called to slow down, get still, and sit in God’s presence – however that looks. Maybe as we’re being bathed by the warm waters of our early morning showers, we lift our hearts to Him. Maybe as we’re waiting in pickup lines, we forgo the playlist or latest podcast to sit in the silence with Him. Maybe we set our alarms earlier or skip the latest episode of yet another series in order to spend some time basking in the love of our Father.

Stillness in the peace of God’s presence doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does require sacrifice and intentionality – not in a legalistic sort of way, but in God’s loving way. Devotion over duty. Desire over demand. And, like Moses, after we’ve spent time engulfed in the glory of God’s presence, we’ll come away with a glow (Exodus 34:29-30) – maybe not of face, but for sure of soul. And the glow of the peace that comes from time with the Lord is proof that we are infused by God’s love, which becomes our way through the fires of life.

Gretchen Saffles, of Well-Watered Women, recently described her own moment of stepping outside of the chaos in order to spend some time with the Lord:

I “open my Bible to Psalm 1. And the tears begin to flow—tears of weariness mingle with tears of relief. God’s Word rushes into my parched soul and waters it once more. His presence wraps around me, his hope infuses me with peace that surpasses all understanding. His Word is a defibrillator that shocks my staggering soul out of its slumber and makes my heart beat again for him.”1  

Friends, the answer to all our suffering, questioning, and wrestling is and always will be getting in the presence of our Father. So, whatever you face and however you feel, know that you will not be consumed – because the love of God won’t let you. Cling to the enduring power of hope by the faith you have in the Father and the love He has for you.

Father God, we come to You with heavy and honest hearts, knowing we need You. We see so much misery and pain – yet You see so much more. We feel so many emotions – and You feel it all with us but with strength and constancy. We face so many trials – and You offer yourself to us to be our shelter, our wisdom, our strength. We offer our thanks that all the suffering will never consume us because You are always with us. We rest in the knowledge that You are higher and greater and stronger than anything on earth or in heaven. And, we trust You are present and sovereign – a faith that becomes the foundation for our hope that You are working all things out for the good of those who believe in You. Lord Jesus, what a relief it is to know that You dwell in our hearts and minds and souls because of our faith in You. What a gift it is to be rooted and established in your love! We recognize there’s no way to have hope in this life without your presence and stabilizing love. We know that it’s only by the power of your love that we can endure suffering without becoming heaps of ashes. Instead, your love fuels us to keep moving forward with faith and hope. Your love covers us and heals us. So, our gratitude runs deep – because nothing can ever separate us from your love! Holy Spirit, thank You for being the conduit of Christ’s love in us. We ask that You would keep reminding us that we stand together with all the Lord’s holy people – we are not alone! Keep helping us to grasp just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – and to receive it everyday. And, keep showing us how this love that surpasses knowledge fills us to the measure of all the fullness of God, which is a truth we long to fathom. Together, we set our minds on Christ. We fix our eyes on the One whose love is so pure that it strengthens our faith and hope. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
(inspired by Hebrews 4:13; Mark 6:34; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 113:4-5; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 3:17-19; Lamentations 3:22; 1 Peter 4:8; John 3:16-17; Isaiah 26:3; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Corinthians 13:7)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – Quoted from the Well-Watered Women email, October 18, 2023.
  • Here’s another great nugget that fits within our context: Lysa TerKeurst says, “as Lamentations 3:21-23 reminds us, we are to call in the hope by recalling the truth” (It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, p.189).
  • Did you notice I put the Hebrew words within the Lamentations passage? I had a bit of a word-nerd moment as I unpacked the meanings of each use of ‘wait’ and ‘hope’ for this post. And words we used a lot at the beginning of the year came rolling back in full force. It was fun to see how the words ‘wait’ and ‘hope’ interchanged because, depending on their context and usage, qavah and yachal can mean both! And, they both have added connotations of waiting or hoping within the tensions – yet with high expectancy for God’s help. SO GOOD! If you want to do some unpacking of the Hebrew on your own, here’s the website.
  • Our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist is full of songs charged with truths the flow like electric currents to our hearts. I’d love to hear which songs on our playlist have reignited your hope!
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • Stillness. I really had no idea just how KEY the spiritual practice of stillness would be as we embarked our Reigniting Hope journey. But God obviously did. 😉 How have you been able to work in moments of stillness into your life? How has God met you there? If you haven’t gotten still before the Lord yet, maybe try one of the ideas I listed in the post!
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit

Reigniting Hope: A Living Hope

Collectively, we watch with horror all the atrocities happening around the world. We struggle with what we see and hear. We grapple with our responses. We long for someone to do something to stop the wars, to make things right. And, if we aren’t careful, we can let fear, despair, and cynicism steal our hope – the hope we have in Christ. The hope that is Christ, who through His own suffering, has given us an eternal life to come and an empowered life today (John 3:16, 10:10).

As followers of Jesus, we’re meant to be people of hope!1 

🕯️Just because we’re surrounded by more ‘prophets of doom’ than we can count, we don’t have to lose hope.1  
🕯️Just because the 24-7 news cycle offers nothing but bloodshed and boundaries under fire, we have a choice to hope. 
🕯️Just because we can’t see Jesus at work doesn’t mean He’s not (John 5:17).

So, what does it look like to be a people of hope? What does it mean that we’ve been given a living hope? And, how does all this relate to what we experience in the world?

You can trust that I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does. 

And I can see that one of the reasons God gave me ‘hope’ as my word of the year is because He knew I’d need it – that we would need it. He has been trying to teach me how to put my hope in Him for over a decade now, and this year I finally slowed down enough to try to learn what that looks like. Yet, as the world faces war after war, threats and rumors of more war, earthquakes and hurricanes, droughts and endless fires, it’s easy to let panic take over (Matthew 24:6-8).

From Doubt to Trust

Panic and pain can cause us to doubt the Almighty’s character and presence. All our pent up feelings and swirling thoughts need an outlet, and He offers Himself as that place (Jeremiah 12:1 CSB). God welcomes our emotions and even our tirades – to wrestle and lament.

In this moment of history, I am learning to turn to God throughout my days with my heartache and questions. And as I do, I’m always met by His grace and love. I’m finding it to be true – that when I shift my eyes back to Him, my breaths come a little slower and my mind settles back into the truths that He is God and He is good. Even when hatred spews a bloodbath that shocks, God remains good (Psalm 34:8). 

Maybe that’s hard to reconcile. Just this week, JD Walt contrasted the idea of God being a puppeteer who controls all the strings of humanity to that of Him being an all-knowing director where the actors like us are meant to get to know the script of Scripture and Him so well that we can know His mind – and move through our parts of the story as He would.2 

That analogy has helped me watch what’s happening in the world this week with an anger aimed, not at God, but at the ones who’ve gone off script, who’ve chosen the path of evil. God’s not pulling the strings, but He is right there to help the ones who are left in the wake of such horrors. And God is with each of us, waiting to help us work through emotions and discern next steps.

So, instead of always ranting at God, I’m learning to take my pain and confusion to Him so He can help me carry the burdens, heal the broken places, and lead me in the ways I should go (Psalm 55:22). 

Photo by Basil James on Unsplash

From Why to Who

He’s also been speaking over my life about the dangers of getting stuck in the cycle of asking ‘why?’ Hovering on the question of why something has happened might feel fruitful in the moment, but like a plane circling an airport, after a while we either change tactics or crash and burn. Our hyper-focused, round-and-round ‘why’ keeps our eyes fixed on the problems, fuels our frustrations, and fills our minds with unbelief, our hearts with bitterness. But there’s another option: focus on the Who. 

The desire to understand why circumstances unfold the way they do is nothing new – humans have sought these answers for as long as we’ve been able to think and wonder and feel. The truth is, like Job, we don’t get to see behind the curtain to know why.3 And, even if we were given reasons, would there be an explanation adequate enough to satisfy our anguish? Is there a purpose that “could provide total relief from our pain?”3

Rather than getting stuck in the why-mire of bitterness, we can grab the opportunity to seek Jesus and His way through the muck (Hebrews 12:15). We can step-up to our call to contend for those who need God and His help most (Psalm 55:17).

Friends, we have a choice in our responses. To rail and to spew our angry words is to add fuel to the already volatile emotions of fear and hatred. From the pits of our own despair, we can cause more division and pain – even if that’s not our intent. 

To walk as Jesus does means we walk a narrow path – one that trusts when we don’t see a way, one that clings to hope in the face of the unthinkable (Matthew 7:13-14; Hebrews 10:23). “The harder calling, the narrow way, is to keep moving forward even when we don’t have all the answers or silver linings we desperately want.”3

To follow in the steps of our Suffering Servant is to enter into the difficult, the grief, the confusion, and the agony with Him – to lament and to trust – because He is sovereign (Isaiah 53). And good. He is the God who grieves with His creation and the One who redeems it all in the end (Psalm 130:7). 

To be a true believer of Christ is to accept the reality that life goes sideways while God remains constant (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). It’s to trust that “in His great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). 

Friends, we aren’t just people of hope – we are a beloved people of a living hope. We put our faith in a Savior who lives, who becomes our hope, and who fills us with a love that heals our wounds and is meant to be shared. 

If there ever was a time to reignite hope, it is now. We are a people of a living hope!

Father God, You are El Roi – You see everything and everyone. You know the pain, the injustices, the truth. And You weep with us. We look to You now, and more than ever before, we ask that You would step into the mess, the muck, the mire – and help. Help those who are wounded, grieving, leading, afraid, and trapped. Help us on the outside-looking-in to find your strength within us to contend with prayers that are fervent and honest and filled with hope for everyone who suffers. Help us to grapple with the truths that while You are sovereign, You also give humanity free will – that while You are good, bad things happen in our fallen world – that while You are always present, we don’t always see or feel your nearness. Yet, You are almighty and good and always with us. Lord Jesus, we step back in total awe of You, our Savior who had to suffer and die for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. You understand the unfairness, the injustice, the pain of living in a broken world. You faced all that we face and died so that we won’t ever have to live without hope or power or saving grace. In You everything is possible – even faith, hope, and love in the midst of the unthinkable horrors happening in the world and in our lives. Holy Spirit, how grateful we are for the living hope that abides in us – because You dwell within us. We ask for extra grace and wisdom in this season, extra portions of faith and hope and love because we know that on our own we’ll spiral and spew and settle into a bitterness that breeds unbelief. With the power that You raised Jesus from the dead, we ARE people of hope. We choose to lean into the living hope we’ve been given in order to become Christ’s light in the world – not in our own strength but in yours. Lord, we believe; help our unbelief as we walk the narrow road and seek to be your hope in the world. In your name we pray, amen.
(inspired by Genesis 16:13; Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20; John 11:33-35; Isaiah 41:10,13; James 5:16; 1 John 5:14; 1 Timothy 6:12-16; Revelation 3:20; Psalm 34:8; Ecclesiastes 8:14,17;  Romans 8:26; Deuteronomy 31:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; Hebrews 4:15-16; Matthew 19:26; Psalm 34:18; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 3:12-14; Ephesians 4:29-32; Romans 8:11; Matthew 5:14-16; Mark 9:24; Matthew 7:13-14)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – Dr. Todd Renner, at White’s Chapel Methodist Church in Southlake TX, encouraged us at Bible study this week to remember that we are people of hope in a world full of prophets of doom. His words are still doing a work in me.
  • 2 – JD Walt in the October 10, 2023 The Wake Up Call
  • 3 – taken from Amanda Held Opelt’s chapter on “Suffering” in her book, Holy Unhappiness,^ pages 175 and 177
  • A great source that equips us to contend in prayer for all the pain and losses and threats in the world is the Lectio 365 app, specifically their prayer on 10/10/23. (That link will take you into the app directly, but if you don’t have the app, it’ll take you to their website.) If you don’t have the app and just want that particular prayer, Pete Greig posted it on Instagram.
  • About our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist:
    • This week’s post took a turn as the world went sideways, but there’s so much more to this week’s passage that we didn’t get to unpack. Verse three of 1 Peter 1 tells us we’ve been given a “living hope.” But as Peter goes on, he has much to say about suffering and faith and trusting Jesus even when we don’t see Him. All his words, written thousands of years ago, have found their way to us today – for this season, for this such a time as this. It’s one way God reminds us He is still here, still with us, still sovereign, still loving us all:

      “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV, emphasis mine)
    • One of the songs on our playlist takes this (1 Peter) portion of Scripture and wraps it all up in a beautiful tune, allowing its truths to soak into us more fully. It’s called “Kept In Heaven” by Ri-An.
    • Finally, I happened to catch a timely post by a friend, Brandon Grissom, that captures so much of what we feel and hope and choose to trust in the midst of all our questions and pain. The song, “Always Good,” is by Hannah McClure at Bethel, and it could easily become our anthem in this season. So, I’ve tucked it into our Playlist right after “Kept In Heaven.”
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • It’s no coincidence that God laid the spiritual practice of stillness before us for this season. Getting still in His presence is really the only place of true rest and peace. It’s the way given to us to quiet our thoughts and receive His words — the place we can give His words space to do a work in us. It’s where we drop to our knees and use our “fighting words,” as Ellie Holcomb calls them, to contend for those who need God most and to pray for our own hearts and paths.
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit


Reigniting Hope: Building Muscle

Our sons are each about four years apart in age, so in all their growing up years, there was only one season when all three were involved in similar activities. In 2011, it happened that our three boys played some form of football. In the early days of the fall, our oldest worked out every-day, both in the weight room and on the field, as he trained for the spot he had finally earned on the varsity football team. Our second-born put his heart and soul into his middle school football endeavors, striving for a coveted starting position among his best friends. And our youngest gave it his all as he took his first steps under the blazing lights of the field, carrying the ball for a local flag football team.

In their own ways, these high energy Johnson boys worked hard to build their muscles so that they’d be ready for what the season would require of them. As the weeks rolled by – and by rolled, I mean raced – some games brought victories while others delivered heart-wrenching defeats. But, through it all, leg muscles made them faster, arm muscles grew stronger, and their inner core kept them moving forward when I knew I would have been knocked down.

It mystified me. The harder they worked their muscles, the bigger and stronger they grew. There was pay-off for their efforts!

I’m coming to understand that as I seek to grow stronger in my walk with Christ, it is necessary to build some spiritual muscle. Just as my sons’ physical determination demonstrates, the more faith I exercise, the stronger my faith becomes. The more I express my hope in Christ, the greater its flames grow. And, the more I share God’s love to others, the fuller and purer my love becomes. 

It is such an opposite action-reaction to most anything else in the natural realm. I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything else, besides muscles, that grows in volume after being used. 

The reverse is true, too. The less we use our muscles, the greater their loss. I hope the irony is not lost on us:  To hoard and stow away the faith, hope, and love we’ve been given is to lose them. 

So — it’s important for us to grasp that God has designed these gifts to increase with use. Why? Because He greatly desires that we would be His vessels, His vehicles for sharing them with the world.

Taking Action

Last week, you graciously tracked with me as we walked through a bit of a dive into word-nerd-world. We unpacked ‘hope’ as both noun and verb. We dug into the Scriptural meanings of ‘faith’. And the week before that, we got carried away along the waters of ‘love’ that stream from the throne room of God. We have spent some quality time grappling with the complexities of our trio of Christian graces – so that we can better live them out.

I’ve mentioned that Paul pulls these three gifts together about a dozen times throughout his letters, but he’s not the only New Testament writer to do so. The author of Hebrews strings the threesome together in order to encourage the flagging faith of a community of believers:1 

“Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.”

Hebrews 6:11-12 NLT

It’s hard for us, two thousand years hence, to imagine life for the new Christians of that first century Church. There was no handbook to help the leaders lead. No dictionary to define each point of division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. No timeline offered for how long the persecution would last or how many years till Jesus returned. Truly, these early believers had to work through much greater divides and tensions than we do – and long before there was a printed Bible to be consulted. 

And yet, we happen to have on hand such an array of letters in our New Testament because the ‘fathers of the faith,’ people like Paul, Peter, and John, continually addressed the challenges the fledgling churches faced – in epistle form. 

This is the context for the writer of Hebrews, who has received a report that a particular church has people who have “turned away from God” (6:6). And because he knows how such ‘fallenness’ can discourage those remaining faithful, he writes a letter to uplift and exhort that community – to encourage them to press on and stay the course.1 He pours out the truth that God is just and that He will “never forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (v.10).

Together, these verses (6:10-12) serve as a call to action: Keep loving one another. Trust that your hope is true. Endure it all with faith and sanctifying grace. The writer of this letter knows that the initial faith and first love of these believers is not enough to sustain them (Revelation 2:4). Rather, their faith (and hope and love) “must continue as long as they live in the world.”1 In other words, faith is not “one and done,” as some are in the habit of believing, but a practice meant for everyday.

A Long Wait

For all of us who anticipate Christ’s return – from the earliest churches to today – the wait can feel long. And in the midst of all that waiting, a lot of life on earth happens. Families fracture. Bodies buckle under the pressures of age and illness. Tragedies abound. Mental health holds us captive. People disappoint us. Others abuse us. Change happens at every turn. And divisions seem to drift further and wider. 

The waiting is long. And difficult. The temptation is to lose heart, to give up – or at the very least, to take things in our own hands.

But, it’s actually into all the life-happenings that we’re called to hold onto faith, hope, and love – as commands, sure. But also as lifelines. And as a means to navigate the harshness of life without getting crushed by its cruel weight. Once again, we see the flexibility and facets of these gifts that remain. They are the action we’re meant to engage in. And they are the means for waiting well:

“The wait cannot be shortened, but hope can be revived by a reminder that hope in God will never be disappointed.”1 

Friends, there is something life-giving and hope-building about acknowledging that we are in a long wait – that there’s a reason why we feel restless and discouraged. We long for Jesus to come and make things right

Armed with this truth, we allow a renewed motivation to push us toward the three weights sitting on the gym floor, just waiting to be used by us:

We pick up faith, a mustard-seed-like barbell and flex our faith muscle – once, twice, thrice.
We lift hope, an unassuming ankle weight that we strap on as we start walking, walking.
We grab love, a squishy, heart-shaped ball, weighing only a pound, and squeeze over and over.

We get to work. We sweat a little and breathe a lot. We push ourselves to exercise these muscles even though we’d rather be couch surfing or chatting up friends at the coffee shop. Day in, day out we lift and walk and squeeze. Little by little, we add weight to all our endeavors, muscles gaining density and strength. Our faith feels firmer. Our hope’s strides are longer. And love grows larger – so that we not only love God more but ourselves better, other believers more fully and strangers more unconditionally.

Here we are, friends, catching our breaths between each repetition. Encouraging one another to keep the faith. Reassuring ourselves in godly hope. Speaking truth in love – because the more we engage our gifts, the more they grow. The more we share our gifts, the more they multiply. THIS is how we endure the long wait without just grinning and bearing it, but with joy. And reignited hope!

Let’s ask Eugene Peterson to send us out today with encouragement to keep working our faith, hope, and love muscles: 

“God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping needy Christians, and that you keep at it. And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them.” Hebrews 6:10-12 MSG

Hebrews 6:10-12 MSG

Father God, your ways are such a mystery to us. We remember You teaching us that your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than ours – so we pray that we would grab hold of these truths about faith, hope, and love and start working them more and more in our lives. It helps to think of them as muscles that need to be used in order to grow stronger. It helps to picture their non-use as causing atrophy within our hearts, minds, and souls. It really helps to recognize that You will strengthen us – we are not in this alone! Lord Jesus, we deeply desire to live this life with the kind of faith, hope, and love that not only sustains us but multiplies within us so that we can share them with others. When we look to the way You lived while on earth, we see that You demonstrated how to keep exercising faith, hope, and love – and it had everything to do with getting alone with the Father and then going out into the world to work by faith, to model hope, and to love unconditionally. Holy Spirit, the only way we can achieve the kind of spiritual muscles that we desire is to have You alongside us for this journey of life. We need your promptings and nudges in the difficulties, temptations, and the long waits. We need your whispered truths spoken over us. We need the Father’s love poured out in us. So, as we get still in your presence, may we receive all that You have for us and release anything that holds us back. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(inspired by Job 11:7; Isaiah 55:8-9; Isaiah 41:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Luke 4:42, 5:16, 6:12-13, 17-19; Romans 8:26; John 14:26; John 16:13; Romans 5:5)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, p.1032-33.^
  • Without realizing it, I managed to string three songs together on our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist that display the heart behind this post — each one on love, faith, and hope. 1) “Set a Fire” invites us into God’s presence with the heart cry of “there’s no place I’d rather be than here in your love.” 2) “Faith to Be Strong” calls out to God to strengthen our faith. 3) “Confident Hope” blasts this anthem, “Forever I will sing of you Jesus, my Confident Hope. I’ll remain in You until my final song, when all is said and done.” There ya go — now you have a playlist for a spiritual workout!
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • Maybe it seems counter to the call to action in today’s post to now ask you to step into the spiritual practice of stillness. However, as Jesus showed us (over and over), we can only know God when we get still in His presence (Psalm 46:10). We can only know His heart when we get still enough to hear His still, soft voice. We can only find the strength we need to keep marching onward in faith, hope, and love if we’ve first gotten before our Father. This week as you sit still with the Lord, try to quiet your thoughts and simply listen. Listen for the word of encouragement He has for your weary heart.
      • Getting our thoughts to be still is harder, most days, than getting our bodies to stop moving. If this is what you run into, you can try a couple of things. First, keep paper and pen handy so you can jot down things that come to mind that you don’t want to forget — that way you can let them go and then settle in. Second, have a word or short phrase at the ready to speak (in your head or aloud) in order to refocus yourself back on God. I find simply saying, “Lord Jesus,” is most helpful. Getting my thoughts to slow down is hard for me to do, but I’m finding the more I try, the more I stick with it — even in the “failures” — the better I’m able to get still. (This is another muscle to keep working at.)
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Gabin Vallet on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit

Reigniting Hope: Louder Than Unbelief

You may know by now that I am a word nerd. I’m the one who actually enjoyed my sentence diagramming class at Sam Houston State University. Yes! There is a class on sentence diagramming. LOL. I took it and even dabbled in leading my English students through a basic level of it. Not to torture them but to help their brains learn to see connectedness and purposes.

At the risk of losing every single reader, I’d love to do a sentence diagramming experiment. Yup, right now. Don’t worry. I’ll do the diagramming, Shelley Style – and it’s a rough representation, visually. We’ll start with the sentence, made famous by Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal.”

Hope is the subject. Springs is a verb. Eternal is the predicate adjective.

Let’s try one more: “Hope in the Lord.”

You is the (understood) subject. Hope is the verb. In the Lord is a prepositional phrase describing in whom the subject places hope.

Rest assured, my friend – we are done with sentence diagramming. But, my hope (ha!) is that you begin to see the multifaceted use of the word hope

For most of us in this day and age, we tend to use hope as a verb. It’s what we do. We hope. As we’ve established in this year’s deep dive into Christian hope, Scripture calls us to hope in the Lord – not in ourselves or others or our circumstances. It’s our choice how we respond to life. We can despair. Or we can hope.

Christian hope is also a noun – that person, place, or thing. Christian hope is a person, our Savior. Christian hope is also a place: the heaven of eternity. And, Christian hope is the thing we’ve been given, one of the three gifts that sustains us today and remains with us forever.

In this particular series, we’ve witnessed ways that faith and hope are sourced by love and are expressed in love – the both-and paradox that allows for love to be the supplier of faith and hope as well as the outcome of them.

This week, Paul reveals another layer to our trio of Christian graces:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.”

Colossians 1:3-5

The faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven

Paul is citing ‘this hope’ here – not just a whimsy of something we hope for, like a wish, but THE hope (noun), the one set in heaven for us. Jesus. His saving grace. His return. His reign. Our eternal life with Him which is a certainty to come. This hope is a strong anchor (Hebrews 6:19). It’s what holds us in the storms of life. 

It’s the ground out of which faith and love sprout.

Paul’s overarching point is that we can hope (verb) because we possess hope (noun). And in the beauty of this symbiotic relationship we’ve been digging into, faith and love spring from this thing called hope.


Just over a week ago 2,300 believers descended upon The Woodlands for the New Room Conference, an assembly of church leaders who desire awakening in their lives and in the Church. It’s a set-apart, forty-eight-hour focus of seeking more of God and entering into a deeper work of the Spirit. 

New Room has always been a space of concentrated Spirit movement – I think because we earnestly seek Him, remain open to His ways, and possess varying degrees of a holy expectancy. This year, however, was like no other. The Spirit jumped right into the first session, breaking hearts wide open for humble repentance and heightened receptivity.

For me, the Holy Spirit burst through during the first worship set. I was completely overtaken by the lyric, “louder than the unbelief.”1 Please understand, “Raise a Hallelujah” was not a new worship song to me – in fact, it falls into the “Quintessential New Room” category for me. Yet, four lines in, I was overcome with grief for my own unbelief. I didn’t fully understand what was happening within me, but instead of resisting or investigating, I just leaned in. To receive. To repent. To worship!

It turns out that one of the underlying themes of our time at New Room was, in fact, unbelief. One speaker helped us unpack the difference between doubt and unbelief, explaining that doubt is a general unsuredness that something will happen. While unbelief is a misplaced faith based on the certainty something will not happen.2 It’s a sure and firm conviction in what won’t occur.


Unbelief is what Jesus charged the crowd with on the day the disciples were unable to cast out the demon in a boy (Matthew 17:14-21 and Mark 9:17-29). Those gathered had no faith. They lacked pistis, which the Greek dictionary describes as “persuasion (be persuaded, come to trust); faith.”3 

In fact, throughout the Matthew 17 scene, Jesus plays on the word pistis, labeling the generation standing before Him as ‘unbelieving’ (v.17), which is apistos in the Greek – not of faith. His emphasis here is not that they doubt (distazo, to waver) but that they fail to have faith. Then He describes the disciples as oligopistoswith little faith (v.20), which is better than having no faith. 

A deeper dive into the Greek pistis shows us that: 

“faith (4102/pistis) is always a gift from God, and never something that can be produced by people. …Faith for the believer is ‘God’s divine persuasion’ – and therefore distinct from human belief (confidence), yet involving it. The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer so they can know what He prefers.”3 

Allow this to soak in. Godly faith involves ‘human belief’ but is distinct from it because faith is not derived from within ourselves. Yet somehow we think it is. You know, like when we say, “I just need to have more faith” as though we can conjure the faith we desire.

But that’s not what Scripture says. It’s not what Jesus speaks here. 

In Mark’s version of the same story, the father asks Jesus if He can cast out the demon since His disciples could not (9:22). Jesus’ reaction is strong, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for one who believes” (v.23, emphasis mine). 

The Greek for ‘believes’ is pisteuó, which is a derivative of our word for ‘faith’. But its subtle difference in meaning is significant: “believe (affirm, have confidence); used of persuading oneself (= human believing) and with the sacred significance of being persuaded by the Lord (= faith-believing).”4  Unlike faith, sometimes we can persuade ourselves to believe something, which often turns out to be self-serving.4  On other occasions, belief proceeds from faith and allows us “to trust in Jesus or in God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something.”4 

Jesus refers to the sacred persuasion by the Lord. 

Throughout this entire scene, Jesus seeks to grow faith – in the crowds, in their generation, and especially in His disciples. He desires their full trust, their true faith. “True faith is always aware how small and insignificant it is. True faith stands in the gap between the promise of God and the weakness of the flesh.”5 

So, it’s a bit ironic that the one who “brings both his faith and weakness to Jesus” is the father who sought help to begin with, modeling for us a true faith within the gap:5 

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”

Mark 9:24

The father claims pisteuó (what he could muster) while asking for aid to overcome his apistos (what Jesus could give). And, when the disciples later discreetly ask about their inability to cast out the demon (v.28), Jesus speaks of prayer and its necessity (v.29) – because prayer is “faith turned to God.”5 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

All Together, Now

When I put together my personal conviction of my own unbelief, the New Room teachings about it, and this story’s unpacking of it, I begin to see faith more fully. I begin to grasp that I cannot force myself to have enough faith to move mountains, but when I confess my faith is small, unbelief vanishes. Doubt departs. Because whatever faith I have is springing from the hope I put in Jesus. Hope tells me that He can. And that builds my faith.

Friend, I suspect you’re something like me. When we read passages where Jesus says that if we’ll have a little faith we can move mountains (Matthew 17:20), our doubt rises. I mean, we’ve never seen anyone actually move a mountain. So, is that really possible? We’re apprehensive, unsure. And when we cross our arms and close our minds, we give doubt room to turn into unbelief. We slip from being unsure God can work into a confidence that He won’t.

But when we give space for the Spirit to reignite our hope (noun), we begin to hope (verb) in Christ, which then sources our faith in Him and love for Him. Paul did a lot of writing in order to encourage those of us in Christ’s Church. He wanted us to see the connectedness of our faith and hope and love. He wanted us to live out our hope in Jesus as a means for setting our faith in Him. Like the father in the story, we can bring what faith we have and, because of hope, trust that Jesus is still able. We can lay down our unbelief to make margin for hope to reignite. Then hope becomes the soil out of which love and faith grow forth!

What in you requires a hallelujah to be raised louder than your unbelief?

Father God, we worship You! We lift our hearts to You and set our minds on You.6 We step back, giving You space to do a new work within us – to make room for hope to flourish so that faith and love can take root. We speak our faith aloud even as we confess our unbelief. So instead of beating ourselves up for not having enough faith, we choose to trust that having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough for You to work with. Lord Jesus, we’re so grateful for all the ways that You demonstrated faith in action, for all the ways that You taught about faith so that we can better understand how it works and grows. As we wrestle with uncertainties, we ask that You would be our source of hope so that doubt will fade before it settles in as unbelief. Keep birthing faith within us, we pray.3 Persuade us, we ask.3 Holy Spirit, we need your help to be aware of doubt’s sneaky ways. Prod us to confess every single time we doubt or fail to have faith in Christ’s willingness and ability to heal, transform, do whatever is needed. Challenge us to step into God’s presence to pray in every situation so that we learn to direct our faith to God,5 so that even as we waver a bit, our faith in Him remains – no matter what we face or feel. Help us to keep trusting in His goodness, His love, and His desire to meet us right where we are. Ignite within us a hope that springs forth faith and love, a hope that builds boldness within us so that we can keep praying, “Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.” In Jesus’ name, amen.
(Inspired by: Psalm 100:2,5; Isaiah 43:19; Colossians 1:3-5; Mark 9:24; Matthew 17:20; Psalm 119:114; Romans 5:5; John 14:26, 16:8 NLT; Ephesians 3:20-21; Philippians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:13; Matthew 18:12)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – from the song “Raise a Hallelujah
  • 2 – Reward Sibanda (@rewardsibanda) was the speaker who taught about the difference between ‘unbelief’ and ‘doubt’.
  • 3 –, definition of ‘faith’
  • 4 –, definition of ‘believe’
  • 5 – The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, p.1032-33.^
  • 6 – Taken from JD Walt’s prayer of consecration in his Wake Up Call Acts series, Fall 2023.
  • Did you hear it? Our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist now includes “Raise a Hallelujah!” Not only does this song engage us in the worship of Jesus — “my weapon is a melody” — and name our unbelief for what it is, but it speaks to the truth that “up from the ashes, hope will arise.” THE hope that we’ve been seeking to reignite in our hearts. Goodness. So good. AND, the very next song after “Raise a Hallelujah” is Bristol House’s song, “Altars.” It’s a song I’d already had on our list — AND WAS A HUGE PART OF NEW ROOM. God is at work! He’s leading the way in our searching and seeking. He’s telling us to put our hope in Him because everything is possible in Him!
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • I know, life is busy — and I’m pushing you toward stillness. And, here’s why. Busyness leaves no room for margin, no space for faith to grow. Without that room for faith to spread its roots, doubt and unbelief grow like weeds. Our anxiety raises. Our fears run the show. Hear me — and I’m learning this too — we won’t live with faith, hope, or love if we don’t. get. still. This week, in your moments of stillness, tell God about your unbelief. Then let your hallelujah be louder than your unbelief!
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

^an affiliate link with which I may earn a bit

Reigniting Hope: The Fruit of Love

We’ve zoomed-in the last two weeks to draw our focus a bit more onto one of our three graces, love, so that we can see how it is the greatest, how it sources faith and hope, and the way it flies over us in order to rally us to our King, assuring us He’s with us and leading us in life. 

Love is also like fresh, cool water flowing from a fountain whose source is a hidden stream. The waters cascade onward, slaking thirst and refreshing parched land. 

The waters of love carry in its current faith, which trusts its current position – be it rapids or floods or drought – because it knows God is present. 

The waters of love carry hope, the purest hope in the righteousness that’s to come in eternity. It’s also a hope for future days here on earth because it knows Christ has already gone ahead and made a way. 

We could say that, so far, we have glimpsed and gathered-under an outpouring of a holy love that becomes the source of our faith and hope.

This week we move a little further downstream to see that as faith and hope continue to work in tandem, infused by love, they begin to express themselves through love (Galatians 5:6). 

Put all this together, and we see that love is both the source and the fruit of living with faith and hope.

Sourced for Good Works

The men in my family love to float on rivers. Their most favorite river, the Comal, is a short, u-shaped river that runs a steady 70-72 degrees year-round. One day we traced the river’s beginning to find an underwater spring gushing from the earth, clear and cold. We marveled at having found the river’s source.

The Apostle John helps us discover the source of the love-filled river we seek:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

Revelation 22:1-2

These prophetic images give us an idea of what we’re putting our hope in – an eternal life where God is enthroned in our presence. And from His presence, living waters flow into the world, giving life to trees so that they, in turn, offer fruit and healing to the people of the world. 

Because of their connection to the source, these trees produce. Twelve months a year, they’re popping out good fruit.

The idea of being fruitful is not only a theme throughout Scripture, but it literally frames the entirety of God’s Word, ending with the above passage from Revelation 22 and finding its beginning, well, in the beginning:

“God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.’”

Genesis 1:28 NRSV

From the moment God creates humanity, He has given us purpose – to be fruitful. To fill the earth and govern it. Then He creates a garden, called Eden (which was filled with rivers, Genesis 2:10), into which He places man “to work it and take care of it” (v.15). Fruitfulness isn’t just having babies; it’s caring for the world and all that dwell in it. It’s work.

When Jesus steps onto the scene, He ushers in the new covenant, echoing similar commands, such as, “love your enemies, and do good” (Luke 8:35). And, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Paul carries on the idea when he teaches, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). And, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And John asks the question we all need to keep before us, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17 NLT). 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

What we’re witnessing is the weaving together, the interplay, of love and work. We’re seeing love as the source of all we are AND as the expression of all we do. Love is what we receive and what we give.

So, not only is faith sourced by love and an expression of it, so is our work! Paul explains:

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. …And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”

Titus 3:4-8

Note the progression: God in love – saves us (through faith1) with mercy, justified by grace – so that we’ll inherit the hope of eternal life – so that we’ll devote ourselves to doing what is good (in love1).

Love is the source, the motive, and the result of our faith. Like so many kingdom ideas, love inhabits us and the world paradoxically. It’s both the fuel for our faith and the fruit of it.

For too long, we – the western Church – have stopped God’s story at: “be saved so that you’ll go to heaven.” But, the whole story includes life with Christ today, as well. We’re meant to receive God’s love for our good – for our faith and hope, for our healing and saving, for now and eternity. And for the good of others. 

So, the next time you read James saying, “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (2:17, NLT), don’t panic! James sees the whole of the gospel. Yes, it’s believing. But it’s also allowing love to propel our faith into action so that love will be planted in the world.

Flowing Waters

Paul is consistent. Throughout his letters, he speaks of love as the undergirding of all that Christ followers are and do. His love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) is his most elaborative work on the subject, but love is woven throughout every single letter. Why? Because he experienced that love of Christ – a perfect love that brought forth the grace of forgiveness and salvation and transformation in him. It’s that very love, and the humility it brought, that become Paul’s motive for a world-changing ministry throughout the known world. And he never neglects to bring faith and hope alongside love:

“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Galatians 5:5-6

Over and over Paul’s gospel message charges us to be changed by the love of Christ that is in us, to allow its power to feed our faith, and to count on its presence to grow our hope. 

Friends, we don’t want to be like the Dead Sea, which is an end to itself, where water is dammed, stagnant, and lifeless. Nor do we want to be a lake that only pours out, no longer open to the filling waters of tributaries. Dry, cracked, empty. Nor do we seek to be a pond that strives to self-sustain. Muddy, stuck, and inconsistent.

Instead, let’s picture ourselves as a reservoir with a fresh river flowing into each of us at a constant rate so that we never feel the need to hoard or hide what we have – because there’s always enough. Not because of our effort but because it flows naturally, constantly from the holiest of sources. And, on the opposite side of the headwaters are the outgoing floodgates that remain open all the time at the just-right rate of need, pouring out the life-giving qualities we’ve received and now share.

So. How about it? If your faith ebbs rather than flows, check the source. What’s filling you these days? 24/7 news sources? Social media? Netflix? 

If your love feels unmoving and dead, then look at the outflow. Are the floodgates open? Are you out in the world sharing God’s love – or hiding in your house?

If your hope trickles like a clogged pipe, then investigate the blockage. What’s keeping God’s river of life from flowing through you? Cynicism? Shame? Unforgiveness?

The truth of Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation – is that GOD LOVES YOU, and He longs to have a life-giving relationship with you. For these reasons, He has created You in His image, given you purpose, and filled you with a love that will source your faith, your hope, and all you will need in order to give love to others.

So as we experience the convergence of our trio of Christian graces, let’s be sure our faith and hope remain sourced by love so that we are able to freely share that love around us. Reignite that hope, friend, by feeding your faith with God’s love and by doing love2 in the world. 

Father God, we might be getting it. You. Are. Love. You are the source of love within us, and that love fuels our faith and hope. We confess that too often we treat your love like a commodity to hoard, to hole away for a rainy day. Forgive us for falling short of a fuller understanding that You are always enough. We pray your love fills every crevice of our hearts, minds, and souls so that our lives will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And we rejoice, knowing that You will not forget the work and the love we have shown You as we take our faith and work into the world to help others. Lord Jesus, thank You for coming into the world to model this way of life for us. Everyday that you ministered on this earth, You worked hard doing good – but not for your good or for your gain. Instead, You allowed love to be the source and the fruit of all You did. We want to be like You. Keep teaching us, we pray! Holy Spirit, where You are, freedom lives. And we desire to have that freedom and to use it to serve others humbly and with love. So, we look to You to be the floodgate that lets the river of the Father’s love flow in us, through us, and from us. We never want to become stagnant or lifeless, dried up or stuck. Rather, we want to flow with living water and share it in love. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(Inspired by 1 John 4:16; Revelation 22:1; Galatians 5:5-6, 13; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Hebrews 6:10; John 13:12-14; Matthew 25:37-40)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – see Paul in Ephesians 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 16:14
  • 2 – Bob Goff brought the idea of ‘doing love’ into the forefront with his book, Love Does!^
  • Our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist Chris Tomlin and Jimmie Allen have a little ditty, “Love People,” that reminds us of the four-letter word that we all need. There’s a fun little word-play too. But more than anything it captures why love is the greatest:

    Underneath the surface everybody’s the same
    Everything that could divide us
    Can’t we all set that aside and just
    Love people, love people
    We all need love, people
  • On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • In the busyness of the season, are you carving out time for some stillness? I’ve been listening to John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, and he stresses the fact that these spiritual practices are work. To get alone so we can be still requires forethought, planning, and effort. Y’all, we aren’t going to get still unless we let our desire to delight in God, our longing for His love to motivate us to get in His presence. THEN, we get still and stop working. 😉
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured Photo by Barthelemy Rigaud on Unsplash. Bits & Pieces Photo by Arjun Kapoor on Unsplash

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