When I’m not at the office, I like to spend my time building things. Currently, I have multiple building projects going on and each one is vastly different. I enjoy each project and I get excited when I begin to enter the final stages of a project because I’m able to admire the work and move on to the next job.
While I get to enjoy this luxury [finishing projects] in my workshop, I do not enjoy this luxury in my walk with Jesus—and neither do you. I often find myself annoyed that I am not yet perfect. Now, I am not talking about perfectionism. No, no. Rather, I am talking about the struggle with sin. It is a continual battle that hardly ever relents! I walk with Jesus and yet I still sin. I walk with Jesus and yet still say and do dumb things. I seek to walk in humility and then stumble into pride without noticing. And my list (and yours) goes on.
As I have thought about this, I have realized a few things, and a few things that I hope will be an encouragement:
I am not who I was.
In 1 Cor. 6.9b-11, Paul wrote this: “Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Notice what Paul said: “Some of you used to be like this [drunkards, adulterers, sexually immoral, etc.]” But, for some of his readers, his preceding list of unrighteous people no longer applied to them. Why? Simply put: Jesus. They surrendered to Jesus and were changed. No longer were they enslaved to sin but were now at war with sin. Understand this: Sinners do not war with sin—only Saints do (Col. 3.1-17).
When I look at my life and my ongoing sanctification process, I often get annoyed and discouraged. However, by God’s grace, I am reminded that I am not who I was and that I am a new creation in Christ.
I am a new creation in Christ.
Talking about the new life in Christ, Paul wrote “the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5.17). In Christ, I am new and I am free. I am free to do that which I ought to do and am no longer captive to sin and darkness. What does this look like? Well, for starters, I also have a new mind—the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16). I can understand spiritual things and I can know God and be known by God (Gal. 4.9). I also have an eternal hope because Jesus is hope and is eternal (John 1.1; 1 Pt. 1.3). Therefore, I can walk the disciple’s journey regardless of how difficult it may become because he is the one who leads (Ps. 23).
I am not who I will be.
And this is the reminder I often give myself when I’m discouraged by the battle: I am not who I will be. Yes, I am a new creation in Christ, and nothing can ever change that. However, I have yet to fully realize the extent to which I am a new creation—that will come in the next life. Even so, here’s the hope: Because I have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God (2 Cor. 6.11), and am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5.17), with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16), I am now, “with [an] unveiled face, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and am being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3.18). And in the words of John: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 John 3.2).
Maturing in Christ is a process you and it will be in until we die or the Lord comes back. May we look to him to find our strength for today and the power to keep pursuing him. May we all commit to the pursuit of God and make it our life’s mission to “know him and the power of his resurrection from among the dead” (Phil. 3.11).
On the journey,
Our lives are often marked with defining moments and extraordinary people that God uses to shape who we are. For me, there is one man who stands out above all the rest: Bro. Joe Blackwell. Bro. Joe passed away last summer at the young age of 94. He was a man who loved the Lord Jesus deeply and was a hero of mine. Allow me to tell you the story of his faithfulness that captured my admiration for him…
In 2018/19, I was going through a dark and difficult season of life. I often felt confused and alone. Life was not going as I had hoped and I was tired…tired of the pain and tired of being tired. On Thursday, March 7, 2019, Smoky Gibson (a friend and the Pastor of FBC Biloxi) preached in Leavell Chapel at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Though I did not attend that service, I did listen to the sermon as I drove back home that afternoon. I was northbound on the Causeway when I heard him say: “People are praying for you every day. Are you living like it or are you wasting their prayers?” I was angry that Smoky would say that, and I began to weep.
In my weeping and frustration, I cried out to the Lord: “Lord, there is not one person who is praying for me every day!” What I did not know is that God had a message for me the next day. Bro. Joe had asked earlier in the week to meet with me on Friday, to which I agreed (A general rule of thumb: If a retired Pastor asks a young Pastor for a meeting, the young Pastor would be wise to make the meeting.)
The meeting was at 10 AM and when Bro. Joe walked into my office, he said these words: “I am a messenger from the Lord, who has been sent to tell you that I have been praying for you every day, for the past three months.”
I do not remember how long Bro. Joe and I talked for, but I do remember that I wept and poured my heart out to this brother. He listened and he responded with compassion and grace. He prayed for me in those moments and shared some great insight with me, insight that I hope I never forget. Of the many things we discussed, he told me this: “Never forget the Holy Spirit.”
There were other things that Bro. Joe shared with me, and I’ll share those things eventually; until then, here is one lesson that God has reminded me of these past few days and was demonstrated in Bro. Joe’s faithfulness: Be the person who is faithfully praying for someone else. Granted, it is impossible to faithfully and specifically pray for everyone you know. However, for those whom God has given you a burden, you can pray for faithfully. In my immediate context of Student and College Ministry, I recognize, as Richard Ross has noted, that the adult leaders in youth ministries may be the only adults who are faithfully praying for students by name.
So, dear friend, who can you pray for faithfully and by name? May we be a people who emulate Bro. Joe’s example of faithful intercession—albeit our prayers may never be known by anyone other that God himself.
Thank you, God, for Bro. Joe.
On the Journey,
*Article updated for typos on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.*