Even when our intentions are good, without these (and similar) verses we would come to all kinds of conflicting opinions about how God thinks about people. But they would be just that—opinions. So today, let’s soak in, and enjoy, the biblical ...
I teach the Bible to men, and I love it! Each week I spend some time trying to see my men the way God sees them. To help with that, I’ve assembled some verses that remind me of what God sees and how he thinks of us.
Even when our intentions are good, without these (and similar) verses we would come to all kinds of conflicting opinions about how God thinks about people. But they would be just that—opinions. So today, let’s soak in, and enjoy, the biblical perspective. Here are ten ways to better understand how God thinks about you:
When Jesus took his band of brothers on tour, massive crowds gathered in every town and village to hear him teach and be healed. How did he see them? Matthew 9:36 doesn’t say, “When he saw the crowds he was saddened by their sinfulness.” No doubt he was, but that’s not what the verse says. Instead, the first disposition of Jesus was compassion. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
After telling the parable of the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that wandered off, Jesus said, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).
When Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler who fell to his knees and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus recited several of The Ten Commandments. The man said, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” The next verse, Mark 10:21, says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Love here in the Greek is agape
Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” Luke 13:34).
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11).
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
“Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone” (Lamentations 3:32-33).
Reflection: How often do you feel harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd? How do these verses improve your understanding of how God thinks about you? Which verses speak most directly to you? Who do you know who would be cheered up by these verses?
Once upon a time, a lion lived contently in a zoo. Born there, he had never known any other way of life. And it was a good life—all the red meat he could eat, regular physical exams, and fresh straw every day.
One day, another lion—one captured in the wild—was brought into the habitat. Every day, the jungle lion paced back and forth looking for a way to escape, growing more restless each passing day.
The zoo lion, unable to understand why the wild lion was so upset, asked, “Why so blue? Everything we need for a happy life we have right here. What else could you possibly want? Why do you want to escape from paradise?”
The wild lion couldn’t believe his ears. How could he possibly explain freedom to a zoo lion who had never seen a jungle—a lion living in exile who thought he already had everything he could want? How could he convey that there’s more to life than living like a caged animal?
In the months that followed, the jungle lion opened the zoo lion’s eyes with stories about life in the wild. The more the zoo lion heard about the jungle, the more he wanted to know. He peppered the jungle lion with questions like, “How big is it? What’s it like? How do you get there from here?” and a hundred more just like those.
The jungle lion was sometimes eager, and always patient, to explain the glories of the jungle to the zoo lion who had only known captivity. Under such intentional mentoring, the zoo lion soon came to see that something about his world just wasn’t right. He too became restless and longed to be free.
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I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:8)
For many months I had been spiraling downward into a severe autoimmune disorder that two famous teaching hospitals could not diagnose. A few close friends and I pleaded with God for relief, but instead of getting better I was getting worse.
One day I read, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Jesus Matthew 21:21-22).
I said out loud, “That’s not true.” Immediately I asked God to rehabilitate my theology of prayer.
The teaching of Jesus on prayer could not be more clear: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer…. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it…. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you…. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
So why is it that when we ask, sometimes we get what we pray for, but sometimes we don’t? Do our prayers alter outcomes, or do they only align us with what God was going to do anyway?
The first rule for understanding a text is that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In that vein, I was drawn to 1 John 5:14-15 which says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15, emphasis added).
This rounds out the meaning of Matthew 21:21-22—God will give us “whatever we ask” when it aligns with the larger perspective of His will, purpose, and plan. But there’s more.
In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus told a parable about a man who asked a friend for three loaves of bread at midnight. But the friend told him he couldn’t help because he and his family were already in bed. Jesus concluded by saying, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:8, emphasis added). “Shameless audacity” (shamelessness in Greek) is variously translated as “persistence, boldness,” or “keep knocking long enough.”
But what if “as much as you need” is not as much as you want? When Paul prayed three times for God to take away his thorn in the flesh, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The abundant life is not without hardships. I still have an autoimmune disorder. To date I haven’t received “whatever you ask for in prayer.” Yet, like Paul, the grace of Jesus has been “as much as you (I) need.”
So what is the definitive guide for how we should pray? Ask God for anything with shameless audacity, then trust Him to give you as much as you need.
And what is the definitive guide for how God will answer? God will grant whatever you ask if it’s in His will, but never less than as much as you need.
As stories began to emerge after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, several survivors from the South Tower mentioned a courageous young man who mysteriously appeared from the smoke and led them to safety. They did not know who this man was who saved their lives, but this they remembered: wrapped over his mouth and nose was a red bandanna.
For fifty-six minutes the man in the red bandanna shouted orders and led people down a stairwell to safety. “I found the stairs. Follow me,” he would say. He carried one woman down seventeen flights of stairs on his back. He set her down and urged others to help her and keep moving down. Then he headed back up.
A badly injured woman was sitting on a radiator, waiting for help, when the man with the red bandanna over his face came running across the room. “Follow me,” he told her. “I know the way
out. I will lead you to safety.” He guided her and another group through the mayhem to the stairwell, got them started down toward freedom, and then disappeared back up into the smoke.
He was never seen again.
Six months later, on March 19, 2002, the body of the man with the red bandanna was found intact alongside firefighters in a makeshift command center in the South Tower lobby, buried under 110 stories of rubble.
Slowly the story began to come out. His name was Welles Crowther. In high school he was the kid who would feed the puck to the hockey team’s worst player, hoping to give his teammate that first goal. He became a junior volunteer firefighter in Upper Nyack, New York, following in his dad’s footsteps.
Welles graduated from Boston College, where he played lacrosse, always with his trademark red bandanna. His father had always carried a blue bandanna.
After college he worked as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He had a habit of putting change in his pocket in the morning to give to street people on his way to work.
Not long before September 11, Welles told his father, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this work.” He was restless for more. Crunching numbers for invisible clients just didn’t
seem like what he was born to do. He dreamed of becoming a firefighter or public servant.
On September 11, 2001, at the age of twenty-four, Welles Crowther became both. And also a hero, because he was willing to go up while everyone else was coming down.
The fallen world is a never-sleeping juggernaut that relentlessly crushes everything in its path without pity—our dreams, our plans, and our relationships. We fight back, but eventually the accumulation of thousands of unfair and unjust criticisms, insults, accusations, rejections, slights, innuendos, disrespect, gossip, offenses, bullying, getting overlooked, feeling kicked to the curb, being denied access, getting ambushed, being undervalued, and getting thrown under the bus takes a toll.
We tire of the snarky, lusty, rude, crude, coarse, envious, jealous, arrogant, and pretentious comments people make. The disgraceful, greedy, unethical, and illegal behavior of others staggers our sensibilities. The endless onslaught of trials, temptations, sins, errors in judgment, and failure wears us down. We’re dulled by the wicked thoughts of our own felonious hearts. We are riddled by shame and guilt for all the ways we have let others down.
It adds up. At a point, without some outside help, it all just gets to be too much. We despair over the evil we see that people are capable of inflicting on each other. Our faith in humanity is gutted. We become fragile. Prickly. Easily offended. Lose our resilience. Hope fades away. Bitterness crushes what little happiness our hearts were holding on to. Our wills get broken. We are prone to withdraw, even if we keep up our daily routines. Despair sets in. We isolate ourselves from friends.
Because I work with men as a vocation, I often meet men when this despair and isolation have taken over. As I wrote in Man Alive, when men try to express their inner aches and pains—what’s really bothering them—they invariably mention one or more of seven troubling symptoms:
I just feel like I’m in this all alone.
I don’t feel like God cares about me personally—not really.
I don’t feel like my life has a purpose. It seems random.
I have a lot of destructive behaviors that keep dragging me down.
My soul feels dry.
My most important relationships are not working.
I don’t feel like I’m doing anything that will make a difference and leave the world a better place.
I often receive an email or phone call from men at just this point. After listening, the first thing I always ask is, “Do you have a best friend, or are you part of a small group?”
In 100 percent of the cases, the answer is, “No, why do you ask?” Often men will add, “I used to meet with a guy, but we stopped,” or “I used to be part of a small group, but I haven’t been going for a while.”
Usually I can help men with the issue at hand, but then I urge them—and this is the big idea—“What’s really going to help you long-term is to find a friend or two, or join a small group, and live life together with a few brothers with whom you can process what comes your way.”
For reflection: What’s your experience with small groups? When you have troubles do you tend to move toward relationships, or withdraw? If you are not currently doing life together with a few brothers, can you think of any reason not to start praying and working to get into (or start) a group?