Friday, January 31

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Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.
—Psalm 73:1

Have you ever noticed that we care deeply about the purity of the things we value? When a man asks a woman to marry him, he gives her a genuine diamond, not one with cubic zirconium mixed in. If you purchase a drink of water on a hot summer day, you expect it to be pure, not tainted with bacteria or harmful chemicals. When you are getting your prescription at the pharmacy, you trust that it’s precisely the medication you need—undiluted, without foreign substances sprinkled into the capsules. The more important the object is to us, the more we care about its purity.
So when it comes to purity in our hearts, minds, and actions, why is it that we try to cut corners? We may think we can get away with something or that it’s not that big of a deal. But at a core level, our casual attitude about our purity says something about how little we value ourselves. God has clearly placed great value on us as human beings made in his image (see Genesis 1:26-27). If we truly see ourselves the way God sees us, with inherent dignity and worth, then we will care deeply about our purity—in what we think, say, and do.
God’s call for us to live pure lives is not an attempt to restrict us or prevent us from having fun; rather, it is proof of how valuable we are in his eyes. As the psalmist says in Psalm 73:1, God’s command for purity is actually tied to his goodness to us: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.”

Augustine, a bishop in the early Christian church, had a great deal to say about purity and living according to God’s commands. Today he is considered one of the most influential church fathers in history, and his writings were significant in the development of the early Christian church. But he wasn’t always known for choosing the way of godliness.

In his book Confessions, which is considered by many scholars to be among the first autobiographies ever written, he talked about the choices he made in his youth and his eventual conversion to Christianity. He is famous for saying, “Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet.” In his younger days, Augustine had the misguided notion that many of us hold ourselves: that God’s call to purity makes him a killjoy.

As Augustine lived by the ways of the world, however, he started to realize that while immorality promises freedom, it eventually ends up strangling us. “Lust indulged became habit,” he said, “and habit unresisted became necessity.” After his conversion, he grew to regret his sins and the immoral choices he’d made in his younger days. He also realized that there is a special blessing offered to those who pursue purity, as Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Augustine said that purity “holds a glorious and distinguished place among the virtues, because she, alone, enables man to see God; hence Truth itself.”

In light of God’s goodness, perhaps we could change Augustine’s pre-conversion prayer to something like this instead: “Lord, give me purity, and give it now.”

What do you need to embrace to live a life of purity? What do you need to get rid of to remove impurity from your life?

—Stephanie Rische

Thursday, January 30

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Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
—Psalm 51:7
Christmas is well in our rearview mirror by now, but I still haven’t quite curbed my habit of belting out Christmas tunes when the urge arises.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is Over the Rhine’s “Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming),” and every time I see the snow falling out the window, I can’t help but sing it. The song starts out less chipper than you might expect for Christmas lyrics:
So it’s been a long year
Every new day brings one more tear
Till there’s nothing left to cry
But there’s also a lovely thread of redemption that runs through the song, all the more poignant for its haunting opening:
Darlin’, the snow is falling
Falling like forgiveness from the sky
If there was ever a metaphor in nature for purity, it has to be snow. One moment the world is drab and brown and lifeless, and then in an instant it’s transformed—clean, pure, new. And unexpectedly beautiful. Everything is covered, from hulking buildings to the tiniest twigs. And so it is with God’s forgiveness. When it falls, it covers everything—from our biggest, most glaring sins to the less obvious ones we try to hide.
Scripture uses the image of snow to describe the purity and forgiveness God offers to us in Psalm 51:7: “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
As much as we desire to follow Jesus and live a life of purity as he did, we fail. We wake up in the morning full of promises and hopes and commitments that today will be different; today will be the day we choose the way of purity. But even before breakfast, our minds have wandered to places we don’t want them to go, we’ve snapped at a family member or roommate, and we’ve cut someone off in traffic.
When the psalmist described becoming whiter than snow, he was writing about a phenomenon that was rather rare and special in Israel. The country’s climate doesn’t have four distinct seasons, the way we do in the middle of America. Instead, it has two main seasons: long summers with hot, dry weather and short winter seasons marked by cool, rainy conditions. In January and February, temperatures typically drop to the 40s and 50s. It’s only in the higher elevations, such as in Jerusalem, where the rain occasionally turns to snow. So when the psalmist talked about God restoring us to purity like white snow, he knew it was something the people in his day would have seen as a rare, beautiful occurrence.
Thankfully, for us who know Jesus, forgiveness is not a sporadic, unpredictable phenomenon. It is something that is available to us at all times—in fact, it’s something Jesus eagerly invites us to receive. When we fail in our quest for purity, it’s not the end of our story. That’s the very moment God offers us his forgiveness, purifying us so we become whiter than snow. Author Philip Yancey says, “The proof of spiritual maturity is not how pure you are but awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door to grace.”
So every time you see snowflakes falling from the sky, remember: that’s the way God’s forgiveness works. It falls on everything and makes us pure.
Is there some sin you are struggling with that you think is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Confess that sin to God, and thank him that his blood makes you whiter than snow.

—Stephanie Rische

Wednesday, January 29

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I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
—Psalm 119:11

It’s a principle that seems pretty self-evident when it comes to the natural world: what’s inside is what comes out under duress. When a volcano erupts, it doesn’t release hot coffee or marshmallow fluff; it spews out lava. When a gale-force wind whips through the ocean, it doesn’t dump bucketsful of mouthwash onto unsuspecting towns; it delivers ocean water. Under pressure, what’s on the inside is what comes out.

But for some reason we are often surprised by the same principle when it comes to the condition of our hearts. When tragedy strikes, we expect to respond with spiritual maturity, peace, and courage—even if that’s not what we’ve been cultivating on the inside. At the same time, we are surprised to see what does come out when unexpected trials hit—impatience, anger, envy, doubt.

Mother Teresa, who devoted herself to a life of purity while serving the poor in India, understood that the quest for purity requires something from us. We don’t automatically get purity injections the moment we become believers; it’s something we have to intentionally seek after. She said, “To be pure, to remain pure, can only come at a price, the price of knowing God and loving him enough to do his will. He will always give us the strength we need to keep purity as something beautiful for him.”

So how can we make sure our lives are marked by purity, whatever comes our way? The Bible offers this guidance: we can hide God’s Word in our hearts. As the psalmist put it, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

The psalmist talks about internalizing Scripture as a delight, not a burden or an obligation. And while the practice of memorizing Scripture requires discipline and commitment, there is also great reward in doing so. As we hide God’s Word in our hearts, it becomes a part of us. Then when we face challenging circumstances or an attack by the enemy, we can trust that the truth we’ve cultivated inside will flow out of us.  

Throughout Christian history, a number of people have undertaken the challenge of memorizing Psalm 119, long as it is. William Wilberforce, the politician who led the charge to abolish slavery in Britain, was one well-known person who committed this psalm to memory. So did David Livingstone, the Scottish doctor who was one of the first missionaries to go to Africa in the 1800s. And it’s been said that one man’s life was even saved as a result of hiding God’s Word in his heart. George Wishart, a seventeenth-century bishop of Edinburgh, was condemned to death and was sent to the scaffold to be executed. According to the tradition of his time, the death-row prisoners were allowed to sing one psalm before they were killed. Wishart started quoting Psalm 119, and when he was about two-thirds of the way through the long chapter, a pardon arrived. His life was spared!

Hopefully we will never find ourselves on the executioner’s scaffold, but we will certainly face situations that are a matter of spiritual life and death. In these difficult moments, when our lives get shaken, may what comes out of us be the Word of God.

Choose one verse to memorize this week. (You might want to choose a verse from Psalm 119.) Write the verse on a sticky note and put it somewhere you will see it every day—on your bathroom mirror, in your car, or next to your phone. Ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable, and say your verse for that person at the end of the week.

—Stephanie Rische

Tuesday, January 28

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I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
—Psalm 119:10

My grandmother grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and to hear her tales of winters there, it’s no wonder she turned out to be the spunky, energetic woman she still is at eighty-five. You’d have to be, I think, or you wouldn’t make it through a North Dakota January.

When blizzards whipped across the treeless plains, they often resulted in dangerous whiteout conditions. People’s footprints would disappear entirely after each step, meaning they wouldn’t be able to see large buildings just feet away. And while for someone like me, such weather might call for a day of staying inside sipping hot cocoa and cozying up with a good book, that wasn’t an option for those tough North Dakota dairy farmers. The animals still had to be fed; the cows still had to be milked. There was no such thing as a snow day on the farm.

Grandma’s father had heard about neighbors who had ventured out in the midst of a blizzard and had gotten disoriented in the blinding snow. Although they were only feet from their home, they had frozen to death before they could find their way back. So he came up with a solution: he rigged up a rope that stretched from the house to the farm for those days when the snowstorms hit. If he had to go outside in the middle of a blizzard, he’d hold on and not let go until he was safely to the barn.

Sometimes I wonder if he was ever tempted to let go of the rope and veer slightly off the path on some other errand, or if he ever got overconfident, thinking he’d done the route so many times in the past that surely he didn’t need to hang on this time. But according to Grandma, that never happened. He knew the truth about staying on the path of life: sometimes the most important thing is knowing when you need help.

When it comes to purity, it’s easy to veer off track, even when we’re trying not to. Most of us don’t set out to intentionally spiral downward into moral failure; usually it creeps in ever so subtly. We take one small step off the path, which leads to another misstep, and another, until before we know it, we’re in a full-blown blizzard and we can no longer find our way home. But thankfully, God has given us a lifeline to keep us going in the right direction: his Word. As the psalmist put it, “Do not let me stray from your commands.”

Our job is to hang on to that rope with both hands, recognizing that we can’t remain pure on our own strength. When Jesus lived on this earth, he lived a life of perfect purity—with pure motives, pure relationships, pure thinking, pure actions, and pure speech. Not only has he given us a model of purity, but he is also the one who gives us the strength to fight against temptation when it comes our way. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we are given this remarkable promise: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Christ is our lifeline, no matter how ferociously the blizzards swirl around us.

Look around your house today, searching for anything that may be tempting you and blocking the way of purity in your life. Is there anything you need to get rid of? Is there anything you need to put limits around?

—Stephanie Rische