Keep Choosing God: a word from Henri Nouwen

Over the past month I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. This is one of Nouwen’s most personal books, taken from his journals during a time of great challenge and even depression in his life. I really appreciated the entire book, which struck a chord for me in what has been an extended challenging season for me as a pastor navigating through the pandemic, racial and political tensions, and various other things. The last entry in the book is titled “Keep Choosing God.” It was a wonderful conclusion to the book that I found very meaningful. I share it here in its entirety in hopes that it will be encouraging to you as well.

You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own doubting self. You know what the right choice is but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.

The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, ‘It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fall back into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.’ And on and on. It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, ‘I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, here with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.’

This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do. You can think yourself into a depression, you can talk yourself into low self-esteem, you can act in a self-rejecting way. But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God and so move toward the Light, the Truth, and the Life.

As you conclude this period of spiritual renewal, you are faced once again with a choice. You can choose to remember this time as a failed attempt to be completely reborn, or you can also choose to remember it as the precious time when God began new things in you that need to be brought to completion. Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past. Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up the rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.

You are facing a real spiritual battle. But do not be afraid. You are not alone. Those who have guided you during this period are not leaving you. Their prayers and support will be with you wherever you go. Keep them close to your heart so that they can guide you as you make your choices.

Remember, you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours.

Henri Nouwen, “Keep Choosing God,” from The Inner Voice of Love (New York: Image Books, 1998), 113-115.

Resurrection and Fear

After Jesus rose from the grave, the Apostle John records four meetings Jesus has with people. The first of these that I want to look at today is Jesus’ appearance in the locked room to His disciples. We read about it in this way:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. (John 20:19-20)

There are three major things happening as Jesus enters this story bringing resurrection power in the midst of fear.

Jesus Comes Into and Stands Within Our Fears

It seemed like the locked room would not be penetrated by anything good or evil. The disciples were holding the door closed out of fear from others and fears circulating in their own minds and hearts. But Jesus came through the locked door and entered into their midst. No lock could hold Him out – neither could any fear hold Him out – because of His resurrection power.Read More »

Why Worry?: Jesus on the nature and uselessness of worry

An article entitled “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About”[1] identified four main categories of things we tend to worry about:

  • money and the future
  • job security
  • relationships
  • health

Many of us can relate to those general categories of worry, even as we all likely have areas of worry that may be specific to us and our circumstances.

In His masterful teaching in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus directly addresses the topic of worry, which He sees as deeply connected to the good life as He is outlining it. He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus tells us that His disciples learn to release worry by getting ahold of God’s Fatherly care and prioritizing God’s kingdom.

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened.” That statement by an unknown author humorously draws attention to the predicament of worry.[2]

Throughout Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus addresses worry again and again as deeply connected to our spiritual life of faith.

What is worry? To worry is to give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. To put it another way, worry is a preoccupation in the present with fear about what may happen in the future. Worry is unease about the unknown.

As human beings, we tend to worry because we do not know the future. Some psychologists distinguish between healthy future thinking, by which we anticipate and prepare for the future, and unhealthy worry, where we either fixate on something or dwell on worst-case scenarios about the future.[3] As unease about the unknown, worry hinders us from living fully in the present.

This is why Jesus, when teaching about the good life, exhorts His disciples not to worry, particularly about the basics of life. As we become increasingly present to our worries, we become less present to our real life, real people, and our real God.

The first century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote: “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”[4]

After all, what does worry accomplish? As Jesus says in verse 27: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). Or in verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Jesus is not espousing a pie-in-the-sky, “Don’t worry – be happy” mentality. Instead, He offers very practical instruction on the good life. Worrying will not make you flourish. Worrying will actually keep you from flourishing. It traps you in your mind through fears about the future. It hinders you from living free and in the present with yourself, others, and God.


[1] “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About,” Psychological Health Care, August 16, 2016, https://www.psychologicalhealthcare.com.au/blog/youre-not-alone-top-things-people-worry-most-about/.

[2] “I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened,” Quote Investigator, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/04/never-happened/.

[3] A. Pawlowski, “How to worry better,” Better by Today, May 10, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016.

[4] Epistolae Ad Lucilium. XCVIII.

Real Faith: worry, trust, and priorities

This past weekend at Eastbrook, as we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount, we turned to Matthew 6:25-34.

This passage speaks right into one of our most personal and constant issues as human beings: worry. I explore what worry is and what it does and doesn’t do. I also spent time talking about the power of creation in relation to our life with worry and our life with God. Ultimately, this is one more teaching that relates to the overall good life that Jesus outlines for His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount where God is the center and life is unified around God’s kingdom and righteousness. That is summarized so powerfully in one of the most memorable verses from the entire Sermon on the Mount, which is found here:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Why Worry? (6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34)

  • What is worry?
  • Why do we worry?
  • What does worry accomplish?
  • The difference between worry and work

What Preoccupies Us? (6:25)

  • Preoccupation with food and clothes (6:25-34)
  • Preoccupation with treasure (6:19-24)
  • Preoccupation with human reward (6:1-18)
  • The disciple is not preoccupied, but occupied with something else

Take a Good Look at and Learn from the Birds and Wildflowers (6:26, 28-30)

  • The well-provided birds
  • The best-dressed wildflowers
  • The care of God the Father
  • If that is true for them, then what for us?

Disciples’ Faith and Priority (6:33)

  • Living by faith in God the Father
  • Prioritizing God’s kingdom and righteousness

Making It Real

  • Perspective: the uselessness of worry and the power of faith
  • Provision: trusting God the Father for what we need Priority: living for God’s kingdom and righteousness first

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ teaching on real spirituality in one or more of the following ways:

  • Consider memorizing Matthew 6:25 or 6:33 this week.
  • Take some time this week to go on a walk or sit outdoors. While you do that notice the beauty of creation around you, especially the birds and the wildflowers. Let your consideration of them lead you into prayer, laying your worries down and choosing to trust God with your life. Perhaps you could use Philippians 4:6-7 as a basis for your prayer.
  • Consider exploring some of these articles on themes related to this passage:

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 April 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 2.55.43 PM“When Christ conquered Caesar” – In my message this coming weekend at Eastbrook at the beginning of our new series, “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews,” I make reference to this article by historian Tom Howard. I think you will enjoy this contrast between the ways of Nero and the ways of the first Christians, including Howard’s description of why Christianity ultimately overcame the crumbling empire of Rome.


1162785971222092.yp1ayqnqcvsmboslolrp_height640_custom-175c2aac0b32e71fa8949771537068a468c369c3-s1500-c85“Alternative Mourning Rituals Offer Comfort And Closure During An Outbreak” – One of our ministry partners in Congo, Congo Initiative, is shaping culture in many ways, including helping people deal with grief during this challenging time. “With a team of four counselors, psychologist Noé Kasali — who heads Bethesda’s counseling program in Beni, an Ebola-affected city in the northeast of DRC — has helped ease mourning for those who have lost a loved one to Ebola. They have done this by creating new interpretations of the traditional funeral ceremonies that are a critical part of the Nande culture — the largest ethnic group in Beni — but without the body of the deceased present.”


09brooks_Sub-superJumbo-v8“The Pandemic of Fear and Agony” – David Brooks invited readers of his New York Times opinion column to send their feedback to him about how the pandemic is affecting their mental health. Reading his catalogue of selections from the 5,000+ replies he received is humbling, painful, and insightful. I would encourage you to read this just to know that you’re not alone and also to help us all become more aware of how others are struggling during these times. A pastor friend of mine commented a week ago that he thinks mental health is one of the fronts of ministry that will become front and center in the days ahead. I cannot help but agree.


cs-lewis_at_desk“C. S. Lewis’ Advice To Students During A Pandemic Will Do All Our Souls Good Right Now” – Perhaps in light of Brooks’ chronicle of our mental health challenges, we could use a good word. C. S. Lewis, although often over-quoted, provides rich wisdom and insight, which is probably why is often over-quoted. He is just so good in these times. Thanks to Joseph Griffith for his reflections on Lewis’ 1939 message “Learning in War-Time.”


dancing_skeletons-_-dance_of_death-_wellcome_l0006816-440a8388671527f09dfe71029e5941ca31dd978d-s1500-c85“When Pandemics Arise, Composers Carry On” – Or maybe we just need some good music to help us cope with the pandemic. Over the centuries, art has been of great help during times of suffering, and that is no less true in times of a pandemic. Tom Huizenga offers examples of musicians who did just that, including John Cooke, Johann Sebastian Bach, and, more recently, John Corigliano and Lisa Bielawa. You may have your own selections of music that soothe your soul in troubling times, but here are some who composed music like that for themselves and us.


20200414_CovidweeklydeathsUSv2“Not Like the Flu, Not Like Car Crashes, Not Like… “ – Ari Schulman, Brendan Foht, Samuel Matlack at The New Atlantis: “Any serious attempt to put coronavirus deaths in context by comparing it to some other cause of death in a previous year must acknowledge the marked differences in the Covid-19 trend — most notably, the rapid spike in deaths that is still underway, and the wide range of uncertainty about when it will peak, how high it will peak, and whether it will peak only once. As long as the pandemic is rapidly spreading, these comparisons will be fraught. Perhaps a better way to state the danger posed by the coronavirus is just that we cannot easily compare it to any precedent in recent history. Nor do we need to dispute projections about future deaths to recognize what has happened already. Amid the statistical noise is a powerful signal. The question is whether we choose to see it.”


Church-online-marketing-featured-imageMissional vs. Attractional in the Age of COVID-19? – There was a little bit of a kerfuffle online between church leaders who could be grouped within the attractional church camp (see Carey Nieuwhof’s “Half of All Churches Are Instantly Growing. Here’s Why and Here’s What to Do“) and the missional church camp (see Mike Frost’s “Coronavirus could set the church back 25 years“). Because of online church necessitated by this moment, some are advocating more and more of this while others are wringing their hands over it. I think we all just need to admit at this point that we’re all figuring out what it means to live as the church in this new moment. The old arguments about attractional vs. missional are growing tired, in my opinion, and need to be updated into a time where we see growing opportunities and hunger for deep human connection.


Dave Dummitt family“Willow Creek names Michigan pastor David Dummitt as new leader” – Speaking of attractional versus missional debates, it was easy to miss this news in the midst of everything COVID-19. Dave Dummitt, formerly of 2|42 Community Church in Ann Arbor, was named the new Senior Pastor of Willow Creek. For those who followed the Willow Creek search process, you know that it started with scandal, was criticized from the start, stalled at least once, and finally has come to a conclusion. Regardless of how you feel about everything that has gone on, let me encourage us to pray for Dave, his family, and Willow Creek as they embark on a new chapter as a church.


Music: Wilco, “Impossible Germany,” from Sky Blue Sky

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]