God’s Light Penetrates Those Hard-to-Reach Places

The night Jesus was arrested he told his disciples, “You will all fall away.”

Peter protested. “Even though they all fall away, I will not.”

Most of us know the rest of the story. Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows twice you will deny me three times,” Mark 14:30

And it was so.

It is so easy to think more highly of ourself than we ought, but Jesus brings light to the darkness revealing all that is not of him. I was reminded of this through the words of a worship song the very Sunday morning my pastor focused on Peter’s denial. As I sang this attribute of Jesus, the Holy Spirit prompted the recollection of a Proverb I read earlier in the week. “Don’t eat with people who are stingy; don’t desire their delicacies. They are always thinking about how much it costs. ‘Eat and drink,’ they say, but they don’t mean it.” Prov. 23:6-7

Although the Scripture was meant as a word of advice to avoid stingy people, that day it was a word of conviction. I had been determining what to prepare for dinner during a visit from a few family members and I wanted the meal to be special, but was not trusting in God’s provision. The fear of not having enough money had become strongly embedded in my heart. Satan had watched me stress over purchases at the grocery store when money was “tight” and gained a foothold. I was fearful of giving generously, although my Heavenly Father is a generous giver. Always concerned about the cost, I was beginning to live miserly which does not glorify God.

As I sung the worship song, I envisioned the light of Jesus flooding into those dark crevasses of denial deep in my heart that are hard to reach. Strongholds not easily recognized.

During the sermon my pastor said, “Reading the Bible shows us who we truly are.” He talked about the conviction of the Holy Spirit that often comes as we read the Word and added, “God’s Word is a spiritual scalpel that cuts deep into our soul.”

Peter heard the words of Jesus face to face and while we read the words, either way they are transformative.

2 Timothy 3:16-17– “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The light of Jesus revealed a characteristic in Peter he had not recognized. As soon as the rooster crowed a second time, he realized he had denied Jesus three times, exactly what Jesus had told him.

And he broke down and wept.

The conviction of the Spirit can bring great joy. We are grateful at those times that God is forever patiently instructing us in his ways. But sometimes the revelation is so shattering to our ego we are filled with remorse. We never saw ourself this way. We are truly brought low, broken.

There are things about us that need to be broken, my pastor said, such as our self-will and sinful habits.

Essentially Peter called Jesus a liar by denying the truth of what Jesus had declared. All the disciples would fall away including Peter. We too call Jesus a liar when we fail to see how God’s Word applies to us.

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:10

But when we walk with God, he brings light to the darkness so we can practice the truth.

The fact that God is light came to my attention during the worship that Sunday at church and the final Scripture reading at the end of the sermon confirmed it. “…God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5b

God speaks, I wrote in my notebook that morning. Then jotted “full circle,” meaning that God grabbed my attention at the beginning and end of the service so I would remember to seek the light Jesus shines to uncover all that is not of him.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-How have you experienced Jesus bringing light to the darkness?

2-God speaks to us in many ways. In my blog, I shared an experience I had on a Sunday morning at church. How has God recently spoken to you?

Blessings We Miss When Our Perspective is Skewed

     The second week of April was a check list week. A calendar filled with tasks that must be done.

Scheduling an imaging appointment made the list. My oncologist needs the results of a CT scan before my next follow-up.

Getting a blood draw required before the scan was also on the list. A lengthy process, it includes a half hour drive to my local hospital and a wait to register for the procedure before being sent to the lab. There is no lab draw appointments, therefore anyone with an appointment for imaging and other tests can be called to the registrar’s desk ahead of me.

     And a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles for the second time in a week was added to the list. Online registration for the used pickup truck I just purchased was kicked back for some reason.

Yes, these chores have a purpose, but seeds of resentment began to sprout in my heart. They are the treadmill moments of life, thieves that steal time.

     I am reminded of the list of chores I had to do when I was a child if I wanted my allowance. There was a chart on the wall with assignments for the week. Sometimes it was dusting furniture, other times vacuuming, but always there was doing the dinner dishes a couple nights. My siblings and I rotated through the tasks.

     The most difficult for me were the dishes on a summer night when the sun set late so playtime melted into bedtime. I cherished the times my mom would take the dishrag from my hand, releasing me from my duties. 

     Words like duty sound harsh. According to merriam-webster.com the definition for this word is “Obligatory. Tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position (as in life or in a group).”

     An obligation, something I must do and my flesh cries out.

     My husband once brought to my attention my tendency to use the term “have to” when going over my schedule for the day. There’s a difference, he says, in having to do something and getting to do something.

     So, I look once again at the things on my calendar. They seem like “have to” tasks, but do I have the right perspective?

     The pickup was one of those great deals you just can’t miss being a blessing from the Lord. It was owned by an elderly person who didn’t drive it much so although it is an older model it has low mileage and is like new. I get to register my “new” truck.

     The lab work and imaging appointment I have been completing every six months for three years now. This means, I will reach the milestone of three years cancer free. What a blessing to be cured of cancer!

     I get to live in a day and time when there are tests to uncover cancer and treatments that eradicate the cells of many types. I get to follow-up to monitor my health and make sure the cancer is caught early should it return. And each day for three years I have lived cancer free.

     My perspective shifts from a “have to” mentality to a “get to” mentality. Obligations can be the result of a blessing.

     If you have been blessed with children, you are obligated to support them. If you have been blessed with a home, you are obligated to maintain it.

     These are all things we get to do because of God’s love, goodness, kindness, provision, grace, and mercy. We can give thanks for these duties that arise from the positions God has given us in life. I am a cancer survivor and the owner of a “new” truck.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Image from StockSnap on Pixabay

Let’s Talk:

1-What chores do you have to do? See if you might turn them from drudgery to joy by shifting them from “have to” to “get to.” Please share the results in the comment section!

2-Think of a few things that might be a duty because of your position in life or in a group. How might these obligations be a blessing?

The Joy of Jesus

Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before Him. I know this joy.1 Because He lives, I live.

My greatest experience was the moment I walked into the presence of God. It happened in a split second, as if blinders were pulled from my eyes, allowing me to see Jesus. At that moment I understood who He was. I knew Him.

When I read that all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus2 I understand why I struggled in the ways of the world before I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I floundered like a swimmer in water over her head, caught in the current of a world in which I did not belong. This current pulled me into life choices that just did not seem to fit. Now, I no longer struggle to keep my head above water, because my feet are on solid ground.

Because Jesus went to the cross to redeem me from the clutches of this world, I belong. And He is restoring what was lost when Adam and Eve were stumbled by Satan into doubting God prompting them to go their own way. As a result, they experienced death. First spiritual death, and eventually physical death.

We are spiritually dead until we receive spiritual life through faith in Christ. (Eph. 2:1; Romans 3:23)

Life is different after the second birth, the birth of our spirit.3 Once we are reborn, instead of struggling to shape ourselves into the mold society requires, we begin to discover who we were created to be. There is no greater compliment than to be told you are reflecting the attributes of Jesus.

This “joy” is more than a feeling, it is a quality of life.4

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

There is joy as we mature in Christ. This is a shared joy among all believers. Paul wrote of it in his letter to the Thessalonians telling them that their unwavering faith was his joy.5

This maturity brings like mindedness. We have the same love; we are of one accord and of one mind. We do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves and look out for the interests of others. This mindset is ours in Christ Jesus.6 What joy this brings to the body of believers.

 Joy may also come out of suffering and sorrow for Christ’s sake, writes Terry Miethe in “The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words.” He sights several Scriptures to back his conclusion.

The apostle Paul suffered to help the church mature, making the word of God fully known.7 The apostle Peter told believers they are blessed when insulted for the name of Christ, because the Spirit of glory and of God rested upon them.8 The author of Hebrews wrote that sometimes Christians are publicly exposed to reproach and affliction and sometimes they are partners with those so treated.9

Of most importance is the fact this inexplicable joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit.10 We are given this Spirit at our rebirth, and He makes it possible to experience “chara,” the koine Greek term translated into English as “joy.”

 C.S. Lewis describes this joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” He adds that the only thing in common this Spiritual joy has with happiness or pleasure is the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.11 

 Lewis wrote that he found this joy to be a Person. And so, it is. In John chapter 15 Jesus tells us to abide in his love by keeping his commandments. He tells us this so his joy may be in us, and our joy may be full. We remain in his presence by walking in the light as he is in the light. Not going our own way but His. And this walk was made possible when He went to the cross, paying the penalty for our sins and thus redeeming us. And now restoring us for His glory.

     “He is risen!” “He has risen indeed!”

Happy Easter.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-How have you discovered “joy” in the Person, Jesus Christ?

2-What special ways do you have of commemorating the victory of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?


1-Hebrews 12:2

2-Col 1:16

3-John chapter 3

4-The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words by Terry L. Miethe published by Bethany House Publishers Minneapolis, Minnesota.

5-1 Thess. 2:19-20

6-Phil 2:2-5

7-Col 1:24-25

8-1 Peter 4:13-14

9-Hebrews 10:33

10-Gal 5:22

11-Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, as quoted in The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words.

Steps to Purity of Heart

     Sometimes we make things harder than they are. Such as the sixth beatitude in the book of Matthew.

     “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 ESV

     At first glance this seems impossible. But I came across a little booklet that provided insight. A Bible study on the Beatitudes written by Pat King and George O. Wood and printed in 1984. I am so thankful this sister and brother in Christ shared the insight God gave them.1

     In the introduction I read: “You can be pure: pure from envy, pure from hatred, pure from lust, pure from pride and selfishness. Jesus has said you can be pure, and this lesson shows you how.”

Those of you who read my blog posts regularly, know this year I am asking “how” do we put into practice Scripture. When we are given commandments such as “Be holy as I am holy” [1 Peter 1:16]; “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” [Matthew 6:33] ; “Love your enemies do good to those who hate you” [Luke :627]… I search for the details on how I might put into practice commands that do not reflect my nature.

We can strive to accomplish all God’s commandments, make them hard work, or we can ask God to show us how to walk in His ways. Sometimes the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the steps and other times He will show a sister or brother in Christ, and we can learn from one another just as I gleaned wisdom from the authors of this little booklet.

Here’s what I learned.

A pure heart is the result of being cleansed of sin. The authors of this booklet showed how this cleansing takes place.

**For a pure heart:

1-Confess sin.

As we become aware of sin, we are to own it. (1 John 1:8) Also, we are to confess it.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV

No matter how horrific we think our sin is, or how many times we have committed the same sin, we take it to God asking His forgiveness and cleansing.

But we remember that confession is not glib words, but words spoken in contriteness with a brokenness of heart. The authors of the booklet wrote: “Continued brokenness will bind the sin. Coldness of heart will perpetuate the sin.”

2-Pursue righteousness.

Also necessary for a pure heart is the pursuit of righteous living. 2 Timothy 2:22 teaches that those who call on the Lord from a pure heart are people who pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Merriam-webster.com defines righteous as acting in accord with divine or moral law. We might say it is choosing the right way to live, God’s way over the ways of the world or our own assessment of right and wrong.

We not only go after a clean heart but all the gains we make we try to maintain. In James 4:8b we are warned against double-mindedness. In modern Christian language we refer to this as walking with one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot in the world.

3-Rely on God.

Finally remember who is at work in us, who will help us.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, either can you, unless you abide in me.” John 14:4 ESV

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12b-13 ESV

In Psalm 51 David goes to God asking that He purify him so he will be clean, wash him so he will be whiter than snow, and to blot out all his iniquities. He approaches God because he knows his sin is against God.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Psalm 51:4a ESV

He approaches God expectantly asking that he create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. (Psalm 51:10)

Jesus tells us in the sixth beatitude that a pure heart is a blessing because we will see God. This alone is incentive to keep our heart pure.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Image by Nenad Maric on Pixabay

Let’s Talk:

1-What reasons can you list for desiring a pure heart? (Share them in the comment section!)

2-Can you paraphrase Matthew 5:8? Share this beatitude in your own words in the comment section.


1-The Beatitudes, Expressing the Character of Jesus by Pat King and George O. Wood. Published by Women’s Aglow Fellowship, International, Lynnwood, WA 98046-1558.

The Godly Wisdom Found in the Book of James

     When we read the Bible, we hear the voice of God. Through Scripture He teaches, directs, corrects, encourages, and transforms us into the image of Christ.

     God’s Word is alive; therefore, it retains its power to transform us day after day, week after week, year after year, century after century.

     “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

But we need ears to hear. The ability to comprehend what is said and interpret it correctly.

Since Scripture was written in the past, an archeological dig is necessary to understand its context. We dig for historical events occurring at the time, issues taking place in the lives of the people expected to read the original text, and the cultural norms of the era.

While studying the book of James, I discovered the importance of genre in this archaeological dig. This book is both an epistle and wisdom literature. Getting the definition of wisdom literature firmly embedded in my mind helped me understand the text.

Let me show you how it helped…

–James writes about godly choices.

In the Bible the wise are oriented to God, and thus please Him through the godly choices they make. The ability to make Godly choices is wisdom.

Wisdom literature was part of ancient culture. Many nations produced writings on decision making with the goal of achieving the best life. Biblical wisdom was written with the idea that the only good choices are godly choices. The theme of Proverbs is “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”1  

–James demonstrates practical application.

In Biblical times the wise person was highly practical, not merely theoretical. James includes many examples of practical application in the epistle he wrote to Jewish Christians who had been dispersed due to persecution.

     “Be doers of the word, not hearers only.” [1:22}

     “A religious person bridles their tongue.” [1:26]

     “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” [2:17]

     “My brothers, show no partiality.” [2:1a]

     “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” [4:10]

     –James pinpoints hindrances to godly wisdom.

     Godly choices are thwarted when someone is double-minded or deceived. Being influenced by the world as well as the word of God causes us to make a godly choice here and a worldly choice there, struggling to get a footing on solid ground.

     In chapter four he discusses quarrels, fights, speaking evil against a brother, making decisions apart from God. This is choosing to act like the world. Deception can throw us off, preventing us from perceiving the truth, thus we fail to make the godly choice.

     Several times in his letter to the dispersed church he warns his readers not to be deceived or to deceive themselves.

     Double-minded is to be wavering, undecided, vacillating. In James 1:8 we are told a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. He is like a wave of the sea tossed by the wind.

     Double-mindedness is exhibited when a Christian blesses the Lord one minute and then the next curses people in His likeness. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” [3:10]

     –James tells us godly wisdom is ours if we ask.

     In chapter one verse five we are instructed to ask for wisdom if we lack it because God gives generously without reproach. It makes sense that God would be the source of godly wisdom.

     But our approach to God must be filled with faith free from doubt or we will receive nothing, according to James. This faith “refers both to intellectual belief and to relational trust or commitment.”2

     John Stott explains faith as “a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”

     In the Christian sense, “faith may be defined as a conscious mental desire to do the will of the God of Scripture.”3

     –James contrasts earthly versus godly wisdom.

     Jealousy and selfish ambition are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, states James. [3:14-15]. He gives examples. Coveting what others have for our pleasure. Fighting with others to get what we want. Criticizing and judging others. Cheating workers of their pay to get rich. Focusing on satisfying our desires. Each is a choice.

     He says wisdom from above is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” [James 3:17 NLT]

     To obtain godly wisdom we are to humble ourselves before God and resist the devil, repent, and purify our hearts. In this way we will be loyal to God, seeking His ways alone. Our loyalty will not be divided between God and the world.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Photo from Pixabay

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have not formed the habit of studying the genre of the book of the Bible you are studying, I encourage you to begin. Why do you think knowing the genre helps us interpret a book?

2-In your own words describe the difference between earthly and godly choices.


1-How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart Zondervan Publishing House Grand Rapids, Michigan.

2-Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms by Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling. Published by InterVaristy Press in Downers Grove, Illinois. 

3-The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words” by Terry L. Miethe. Published by Bethany House Publishers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Spiritual Eyes Help Us See God in the Details

     A friend was telling me how God was showing up in her life. She was amazed at His increased presence.

     “I think He has always been in the details of your life,” I told her. “Perhaps your spiritual eyesight has increased so you are able to recognize the hand of God more often.”

     She considered my comment for a moment, then agreed.

     I have noticed that I see God’s hand more frequently as I draw closer to Him. God tells us this will happen.

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a

I draw close through His Word where I learn about His attributes and ways, prayer where I personally interact with Him, and fellowship with other Christians when we share stories about our Savior.

One of my first glimpses of His divine intervention occurred shortly after my heart opened to Christ and I entered into His presence. The encounter was initiated by email with information about an extension class on creative nonfiction writing offered by the University of California at Davis. I was intrigued, but the class was costly.

     Even though I was a new Christian I had learned to take opportunities to God in prayer before making decisions. As the deadline for the class drew near, I had no clear direction. Finally, I decided to enroll.

     A few days after enrollment had closed I received a phone call from the registrar letting me know not enough students registered so the class was canceled.

     Immediately I knew God had answered my prayer. He is involved in the details of life. As I grow closer to Him, I recognize His intimate involvement in the details more and more.

    Recently I witnessed God’s intervention while copying a Sunday School lesson to distribute to teachers. Halfway through the lesson on the prophet Jeremiah I discovered several pages were missing. I just happened to have another copy of the book due to a shipping error, so I grabbed it. All the pages were there so I could finish the lesson.

     Because the book with the error was shipped to the wrong location the publisher sent a replacement. I ended up with both shipments, and only when I saw the error did I see God’s hand in the situation. Without the second shipment I wouldn’t have had the curriculum I needed. God went before me.

     A favorite section of Scripture for me is 2 Kings 6:11-23, which reveals our need for spiritual eyesight. When the king of Syria sends a great army to capture Elisha the soldiers surround the city during the night. In the morning Elisha’s servant sees the soldiers and panics. Elisha tells the servant not to be afraid for “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha asks God to open the servant’s spiritual eyes and as a result the servant sees God’s vast army surrounding them.

     Spiritual eyesight is required to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and walk into the presence of God. At the point of salvation, it is ours.

     The disciples that walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus did not know who He was until they sat down for dinner and “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” [Luke 24:31]

     This spiritual experience is very real to me for this is my story. One moment in time a veil lifted from my eyes, and I recognized Jesus. I knew Him and walked with joy into His presence. Salvation was mine.

     But the development of my spiritual eyesight has been an ongoing process.

In the book of Ephesians Paul said he prayed for them. Part of that prayer was that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened. [Ephesians 1:18a]

     That is my prayer as well. May our spiritual eyes open so we can see the wonderful works of God’s hand. Will you join me in this prayer?

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-What have you seen with your spiritual eyes that has helped you to be more aware of God’s hand in your life?

2-How are you developing your spiritual eyesight?  

Please share your insights in the comment section below.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Turning up the Volume of the Spirit’s Voice

“When we realize God has the best for us, we obey Him.”

     My husband made this comment one morning when we were discussing God’s Word.

     The dictionary definition of obedience is “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.” (search.yahoo.com)

     Author Mark Batterson wrote that the Latin word for “obey” is obedire, which means “to give ear.”1 “Obedience starts with an ear that is consecrated to Christ. It’s tuning in to His frequency and turning up the volume. It’s obeying His whispers, even if culture is screaming the exact opposite,” he writes. Then he asks…

“Is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit the loudest voice in your life?”2 

     The loudest voice. Last week I wrote about the domineering nature of our flesh, promising to discuss in this week’s blog how victory over the flesh is possible.

     I have found that ungodly actions are first formed in my mind. I recognize them because they are self-centered. They are all about ME… my comfort, my satisfaction, my convenience, my happiness. But it is the Holy Spirit who reveals the motivation behind my decisions. When they are influenced by the flesh, He gives me Scriptural direction.

     Paul tells us: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) Later in this chapter he tells us to “keep in step with the Spirit.” (5:25)

     Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, I see the incongruity between my behavior and the Word of God… I am out of step. It is through repentance, turning from the flesh to the ways of God, that my walk is restored. As I implement the Biblical verses the Spirit brings to mind, I am back in step with Him. It is in obedience that I keep step.

     But this victory does not come in our own strength or by our own will, writes Warren W. Wiersbe in his commentary on the book of Galatians, “Be Free, Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality.” Victory comes by surrendering our will to the Holy Spirit, states Wiersbe.

The direction is in Galatians 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” He explains the verse literally reads willingly led.3

When we love God, we desire to obey Him. (John 14:15)

Wiersbe explains—“The Holy Spirit writes God’s law on our hearts (Heb. 10:14-17; see 2 Cor. 3) so that we desire to obey Him in love.”

“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8

     In his Bible commentary, author Tony Evans writes: “To ‘walk by the Spirit’ is to discover God’s view on a matter, decide to act on that divine perspective, and depend on the Holy Spirit to empower your obedience.”4

     Let’s look at these steps.

*Discover God’s View

     I mentioned earlier that the Holy Spirit brings Scripture to mind when my behavior is out of step with the ways of God. He can’t remind me of something that isn’t there. My part is to study the Bible. Truthfully, I love to do this. I find God’s ways remarkable and worth the time and effort it takes to gain understanding.

Most often God’s instructions are not something that come naturally to me. Sometimes I think they do, telling myself “I do that,” or “I can do that.” Then a situation comes up that requires the implementation of this Scripture and I know I have not mastered it. It is not yet written on my heart.

*Decide to Act on God’s Perspective

     Instead of trying to master a Scripture in our own strength, we turn to the Holy Spirit and ask Him for direction on how to implement it. But we must do so with a willing heart.

I posted a blog on this topic January 17 and in it I quoted Hannah Whitall Smith, author of “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. She described a willing heart perfectly, in my opinion.

     God’s commands become desires springing up within us. “They will originate in our will; we shall feel as though we desired to do so and so not as though we must,” she writes.

     As we surrender to the Holy Spirit, God’s commands no longer seem like something we have to do but something we get to do.

*Depend on the Holy Spirit

     When we depend on ourselves, we use our willpower to resist the flesh and walk in God’s ways.

     Willpower is “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges. Also, strong determination that allows one to do something difficult.” (merriam-webster.com) Sometimes this works, but it takes great effort and often it fails. And it is not transformative. Our behavior looks changed, if our determination remains strong.

     However striving is exhausting and we always seem to fall short of the mark. Victory comes by divine power not by willpower.

     In last week’s blog titled “Sizing Up the Enemy,” I wrote the enemy is us. Realizing that fleshly desire and a desire to walk in the Spirit are at odds with each other, whenever we are in the flesh we can wave a white flag signaling surrender to the Holy Spirit.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-This isn’t the first time surrender has popped up in the 2023 blogs that focus on spiritual transformation. If you can offer an example of surrender in your life, please write about it in the comment section. Sharing stories helps us grow.

2-To do the will of God we must know the will of God. Please, share some of your Bible study habits that have helped you grow! By sharing we may come across something that is extraordinarily helpful.


1-“No Room for God in a Heart of Stone” January 31 blog post on “A Place to Meet.” Covers topic of “ears to hear.”

2-“Double Blessing, Don’t Settle for Less Than You’re Called to Bless” by Mark Batterson. Published by Multnomah, a division of Penguin Random House.

3-“Be Free, Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality” by Warren W. Wiersbe. Published by Victor, Cook Communications Ministries Colorado Springs, CO.

4- The Tony Evans Bible Commentary Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Sizing Up the Enemy

     By the title, most readers will assume this blog is about demonic forces. But it focuses on the flesh. The flesh is an enemy from within.

     Walt Kelly, author of the comic strip Pogo, created an Earth Day poster in 1970 with the quote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” His point was that the environment was polluted by people not by some outside force.

     Likewise, we are our own worst enemy, so easily succumbing to the flesh rather than following the leading of the Spirit. I always think of the term flesh as our sinful nature—self-focused, self-centered, and self-gratifying. Fleshly traits that stumble our walk in Christ.

     I know some of the fleshly traits I routinely battle. Frustration is one.

It causes me to struggle with difficult projects, leaving them unfinished or avoiding them altogether. This often happens when I try to learn a new computer software program.

It prevents me from thinking clearly and soon anxiety consumes me, sometimes I panic. This might happen when I try to navigate massive freeway systems in a strange city or an unfamiliar airport. You too may be able to name a few personal traits that bring you down as well.

     While the word “flesh” is used in many ways in the Bible, this blog is focused on the sinful element of human nature as opposed to the Spirit.1

     The one thing we should note about the flesh is that it is weak, or a weakness in us. Recognizing this, I believe, will help us defeat it.

     In Merriam-Websters Dictionary synonyms listed for weakness are “fault” and “defect.” I tell you this because it seems to be a very important point, a reason why we so easily succumb to the flesh although as a new creation we have the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

     Matt 26:41-“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” ESV

     I said this blog was not about demonic forces yet our flesh makes us susceptible to them. Satan is known as a tempter. He knows how to entice us into sin. While Satan is not “all knowing” like God, the forces of darkness are observant, and they can detect those weaknesses (faults and defects) that fall under the heading of flesh.

The instruction Jesus gave took place in the garden of Gethsemane where He went to pray before He was arrested. Fatigued, the three disciples invited to accompany Him– Peter, James, and John– fell asleep rather than supporting Jesus as He prepared for His crucifixion but He was not chastising them. He was looking out for their welfare.

     Jesus was talking about “peirasmos.” This word, which is koine Greek, the language the New Testament was originally written in, means trial, temptation, or putting to the test. “When God is the agent, peirasmos is for the purpose of proving someone, never for the purpose of causing one to fall. If it is the devil who tempts, then it is for the purpose of causing one to fall.”2

     The flesh “is not automatically sinful, but it is weak, limited, and temporal. Such qualities make it vulnerable to sin.”3 

     The flesh points us to the temporal, the things of this world, rather than eternal matters. We are told in 1 John 2:16-17 that all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is passing away.

     The desires of the flesh is the worldly promise to satisfy a legitimate desire in an illegitimate way. For example, sitting down to enjoy a good meal is legitimate but indulging in gluttony is worldly.4

     The desires of the eyes are covetousness, which means we aspire to have wealth or material goods or the possessions of others. The pride of life includes the titles and achievements that give us status in the eyes of others as well as impressive things we own such as a large house overlooking the ocean, an expensive car, and clothes with fashion designer labels.

     While Satan can use our fleshly desires to tempt us, the flesh can manifest without demonic assistance. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:19-21 that the works of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.”

     Paul warned that it is a battle within.

Rom 7:18—”For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” ESV

     Our flesh battles the Spirit.

     Gal 5:17—“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” ESV

     Despite this difference, victory over the flesh is possible. Next week we discuss “how.”

Let’s Talk:

1-What “faults” and “defects” make you susceptible to temptation? Why is it important to identify them?

2-How does your flesh manifest for the world to see and Satanic forces to take note of? I explained within the blog how “frustration” gets the best of me and becomes visibly noticeable.


1-Easton’s Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc.

2-The Complete WordStudy Dictionary New Testament edited by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D. AMG Publishers Chattanooga, TN.

3- Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright © 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.

4-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, TN.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

     There are times when we feel far from God. Times when we are struggling. Often, we refer to these times as wilderness or desert experiences.

     How do we connect?

     We can prepare the way of the Lord. Creating a highway in the desert for our God.

     It is John the Baptist who brings us the instructions.

     “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” Matt. 3:1-3 ESV

     The instructions John gave 2,000 plus years ago for those lost spiritually are the same for us today. Repentance is not only required for salvation, it is essential for our walk with God. It prepares our heart to take the straight path, God’s way through the wilderness rather than stumbling along on our own; flailing in uncertainty but hoping to somehow touch God as we grope our way along a path we have chosen.

     How do we make straight a highway for our God?

     Through repentance. According to the Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words, this English term comes from “the Greek metanoia, “a change of mind,” and the Latin re, “again,” and poenitere, “to make repent.” In the New Testament, it means to turn away from sin and turn toward God and His will. Repentance radically transforms attitude and direction.”

     To repent we use our mind to comprehend God’s way and determine how our way has become skewed. Once we have corrected the error of our thinking, we can correct our behavior and thus make straight the path. Repentance is always demonstrated in the physical realm.

     When we repent, our perspective changes and we align our behavior with God’s ways. Therefore, we are no longer at odds with God. Repentance is a complete change of heart resulting in restoration.

     In Psalm 15 David asks who may abide in God’s tabernacle or be close to God? He answers those “who do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.” NLT

     Positionally in Christ we are righteous and can stand in the presence of God, but our heart can be far away.

Draw Close

     To draw close to God once again through repentance we acknowledge the seriousness of our sin, refusing to justify it.

     “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

     Let’s look more closely at the Scripture that announced the coming of John the Baptist, Isaiah 40:3-5.

A voice cries:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together,

     for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” ESV

     Valleys might be the areas in which we struggle. This could be discouragement, worry, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lonely, or unworthy.

     How do we lift up these valleys?

     James 4:10-“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” We can bring these issues to God with a humble heart. Humbleness is to be unassuming in attitude and behavior, respectful, and without pretensions.

     Proverbs 3:34 says God gives grace to the humble, and we know God’s grace is sufficient. (2 Cor. 12:9)

     The next few sentences about hills and mountains being made low; crooked places straight, and rough places smooth speaks to all our thoughts and actions that are not of God. This includes our self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, tendency to turn to the world, or respond to situations in an ungodly manner.

     Repentance is a change of heart that creates a straight highway. It smooths the rough places and levels uneven ground.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-How has repentance helped you prepare for the Lord to do mighty works in your life? What did you need to turn from to get on the straight path?

2-In the comment section -Please share a time when you had a complete change of heart, turning from your way to God’s way.

No Room for God in a Heart of Stone

     In American culture independence is a valued trait. Frank Sinatra sings, “I did it my way,” and everyone cheers.

     But in the Kingdom of God, we bow our will to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the Bible, when people live outside of God’s will their heart is described as “darkened, rebellious, callous, unfeeling, or idolatrous.” Such a heart has grown hard, and resistant to God.

     “It is in this context that hardening, or hardness of the heart must be understood. The heart represents the total response of a person to life around him or her and to the religious and moral demands of God. Hardness of heart thus describes a negative condition in which the person ignores, spurns, or rejects the gracious offer of God to be a part of his or her life.”1

     In the parable of the sower, the conditions of the heart are covered in terms of soil. Seed is unable to penetrate hard soil and grow. The seed only flourished in the good soil. This is equivalent to the person who hears God’s Word, learns its meaning, and then puts it into practice so it accomplishes much.

     *Be ready to hear God’s Word.

     Ears to hear is of utmost importance in preventing the hardening of our hearts.

     “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is tagged on the end of several parables in the New Testament. This warning is found at Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8 and 14:35. The person with ears to hear is willing to spend the time needed to comprehend the text and uncover its application.

     The book we selected for women’s Bible study at the church I attend emphasizes the importance of taking time to study the Word of God. Often, we read the Bible as if it were written for an audience of one… us. Yet each book of the Bible was written in a certain place and time, by an author inspired by the Holy Spirit, for a particular segment of the population. Without the ancient context, there is no modern point to God’s Word.

The soil in the parable of the Sower is prepared by tilling to receive the seed and the heart must also be prepared through prayer to receive the Word.

“Without prayer, our study is nothing but an intellectual pursuit. With prayer, it is a means of communing with the Lord. Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself,” writes Jen Wilken.2

     *Put the Word into practice.

Once the Word of God is planted in our hearts by hearing it, we can tend it as a farmer does his crop so it will flourish and grow. The planted Word takes root in our hearts when we comprehend what the text says, interpret it correctly, and determine its application. For the text to be transformative, we approach it with a willingness to change. We begin to practice what it says, often imperfectly at first but we get better as we live it.

And we can change if we do not harden our heart. Refuse to obey God’s Word.

In Ezekiel 11:19 God tells the Israelites he will replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh. This promise is for the time Israel collectively recognizes Jesus Christ as her Messiah. But those of us who have received the Holy Spirit have been given this heart of flesh, the ability to receive the Word of God and practice it.

What might prevent us from putting into practice God’s Word which is obeying it?

     We dismiss the consequences. I often hear people who don’t want to follow a particular commandment say, “God will love me anyway.” He does love us even when we sin, but there are consequences to disobedience. It is not so much “punishment” as the unavoidable result of the conduct. If you embrace this behavior, this will happen.

Adam and Eve did die when they ate the forbidden fruit. First spiritually, separated from God, and later physically.

     What was the command?

     “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17

     Everything God teaches us is for our good. But when we are told to forgive, and someone harms us, our heart balks at such a command. Surely, this can’t be the “best” for us. We have freewill, God gave us choice. Our heart begins to harden when we reject God’s Word and say, “I will not.”

     *Guard against deception.

     In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told the heart is deceitful above all things but hardening of heart goes beyond this condition. Instead of creating that pliable heart ready to receive and follow God’s Word, we can harden our hearts. Bitterness over circumstances can cause our hearts to become hard.1

     To have a right response to the commands of God, (the ability to put it into practice), after we prepare our heart to receive the Word we guard against deception.

     Proverbs 4:23 instructs: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)

     We know sin entered the world through Satan’s deception and we too can be deceived. Paul tells us to gear up for war in Ephesians 6:14-18. What is our armor?

     –The belt of truth. “Truth is the objective standard by which reality is measured. God’s Word is truth.” Satan “can’t function in an environment of integrity.”3

     –The breastplate of righteousness. “This is the righteousness of Christ, imputed by God and received by faith, which guards our hearts against the accusations and charges of Satan and secures our innermost being from his attacks.”4

     –The shoes of the gospel of peace. Our feet need to be anchored on the Rock (Jesus) in hand-to-hand combat. “Christ is our foundation in this world.”5

       –The shield of faith. This piece of armor “makes Satan’s sowing of doubt about the faithfulness of God and His Word ineffective.”4

     –The helmet of salvation. The fact we are saved, our spirit has come alive to Christ, gives us the ability to discern spiritual truth and not be deceived by Satan’s lies.

     –The sword of the Spirit. This piece of armor is named as the word of God in the Bible. While the other pieces of armor are defensive weapons, the sword is an offensive weapon. 

     –Pray at all times in the Spirit.

     A heart that has not been turned to stone is a receptive heart. It is ready to respond to God. It is the type of heart needed for relationship.

©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have ever hardened your heart, refused to obey a command, what were the consequences? What caused your heart to soften?

2-What are some good ways to always remember that God has the very best for us? I learn about God, His attributes and character and make note when I personally experience them. Then when doubt of his faithfulness or goodness begins to get a foothold, I recall how God has proved that He is who He says He is. In this way I avoid hardness of heart.


1-Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright © 1996 by Baker Books.

2-“Women of the Word, How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilken. Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois.

3-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.

4-GotQuestions.Org. Got Questions Ministries answers questions about the interpretation of God’s Word on its website.

5-Ephesians, Thru the Bible Commentary Series by J. Vernon McGee. Publisher Thomas Nelson Nashville, Tennessee.