Never Til Now

“These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”

Philippians 3:7- 9a (Common English Bible)

Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Restlessness is the dominant mood of Never Til Now, written by Matt Roy and Ashley Cooke and performed by Ashley Cooke; “I’m a walking definition of unsettled and restless. The needle in my compass points anywhere but home.” These lyrics speak to a relatively constant way of living: movement from one place to another, never finding contentment, never finding “home.” A bleak and disappointing existence settles in on the voice of the song, “I thought I’d always be alone.” And several stanzas later, “Never saw myself with a white picket fence dug into the ground.” Suddenly, the narrative shifts, “Never ‘til now.”

In this teaching from Philippians, Paul’s world has been turned upside down. Observance to the law of God had been used as the metric for separating the “clean” and the “unclean” – that is, those who were worthy in God’s sight and those who were not. Suddenly, Jesus walks into Paul’s life and the cross topples that religious distinction. Every element, every conviction of Paul’s former life has been called into question. Paul falls for Jesus; Paul falls hard and life simply will never be the same again. Former markers of status in Paul’s life and ministry are now empty – are “as sewer trash.” These prior riches have paled in compassion to Jesus. One thing matters to Paul, “that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”

Never Til Now captures the discouragement of a restless heart, a heart that seeks home but never finding, and celebrates the possibility of arriving at a place of rest brought by the love of another, “Out of all the prayers I’ve prayed. You’re Heaven’s answer.” The voice of the song initially denies unhappiness, “I never wanted to tap my brakes. I never wanted to settle down.” Yet, as though there is a Freudian slip, admits traveling through “hell” until that someone special “walked into that bar” and they danced until closing time. No longer the same person who walked into the bar alone, the voice of the song has become something new because of experiencing something new in another.

This is what Paul wants us to hear in Philippians, that when our restless hearts are nearly consumed in the flames of anguish, an encounter with Jesus becomes Heaven’s answer to our deepest longings. Each of us knows people who struggle through life without a deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we are that person. They deny anything is missing in their life. They make an effort to convince those around them that they don’t need a church, don’t need to read the Bible, don’t need to cultivate a prayer life. Nonetheless, secretly their hearts remain restless. Paul’s life never lacked anything, he claimed, before Christ. The voice of Ashley Cooke’s song never thought about a different life. Then a great love walked into their lives. That is when “never” became, “Never ‘til now.’



The Gift of Encouragement

“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (Common English Bible)

In the January, 2020 issue of Runner’s World magazine, a woman shares her struggle to complete the New York City Marathon. Halfway through the twenty-six mile run, personal resources ran out. Physical and emotional resources depleted, she would walk to the sidelines and drop out. Except, there were people on the sidelines. Strangers to her. Moreover, not one of them would let her stand with them on the side of the street. They were not rude. Rather, they shouted, and cheered, and pushed her forward with words of encouragement. Strangers would not allow her to quit. She finished the marathon in last place. However, she finished the race!

That is the business of the church! We encourage people not to give-up on the race. We shout words of encouragement. We urge them to continue, particularly when it is difficult. We do so in the certain confidence of God’s strength that never falters. Showing-up for worship is a shout from the sidelines. Serving in some ministry, alongside others, is a shout from the sidelines. Financial giving to ensure that the church continues to move forward is a shout from the sidelines. Paying attention to others, listening deeply, caring with an expansive heart, is a shout-out from the sidelines. Each is a real and meaningful means of urging people forward when they face every kind of struggle, difficulty, and challenge.

Some years ago, the distinguished Christian thinker and teacher, Lesslie Newbigin taught that the primary task of the Christian is engagement. Preaching is important. Teaching is important. However, the primary task of the Christian is deep and meaningful engagement in the lives of those we encounter every day. What the church preaches and what the church teaches is not the primary concern of most people. What is most urgent in the lives of the common person is the question “Is there someone who cares?” Authentic engagement in the life of another, championing them through difficulty, creates a ripple effect that changes multitudes of lives.

The single greatest mistake that Christians make is the assumption that their faith is a private matter. Such an assumption directs the believer down the path of selfishness. Comments such as, “I can be a good Christian without going to church” reveals that selfishness. As Newbigin argues – and as the apostle Paul asserts here in his letter to the Thessalonian Church – Christians are to gather so that they may mutually encourage one another. Demonstrations of care, support, and encouragement are shouts from the sidelines to those discouraged and defeated by life. These “shout outs” become enough for those whose own resources have become depleted to finish the race.




 “I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.”

2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (Common English Bible)

 Sometimes it appears that the apostle Paul had a hidden charm that both protected him from discouragement and defeat while providing navigation for his ministry. With every possible force at work against him – every possible obstacle to moving forward – Paul was simply unbeatable. His journey seemed impossibly long, and there were lengthy stretches that he had to endure much hardship and loneliness. What’s more, Paul kept a careful journal of each difficulty encountered, every challenge he faced, and deprivation he endured. His purpose for recording each was simply to force the question – can anyone survive experiences such as these, one upon another, by their own strength, their own resources?

Paul’s answer is, “no.” Every difficulty, challenge, and deprivation presented an opportunity for Paul to proclaim available strength that was not Paul’s – the strength of the risen and active work of Jesus Christ. Storms are part of the normal climate and adversity is part of normal life. Paul utterly rejects the false notion that a formula is at work that shields us from the strong winds and turbulence of day-to-day life. Rather, Paul’s desire is to point to his own life and demonstrate a steadying hand that holds us and strengthens us in the storms. Life is full of annoying and costly interruptions and opposing forces that are bent on defeating us. Paul urges that we make the winds of opposition occasions for relying upon God.

That legendary football coach of Notre Dame, Knute Rockne once summoned his players before a game and said, “The team that won’t be beat, can’t be beat.” Rockne was not here proclaiming the strength of Jesus for his players. He was appealing to uncommon courage and strength and persistence that lie within each of us. Many of us engage the game of life without our best effort, settling for something just below our actual capacity. Tremendous effort to overcome life’s difficulties is rare, people often accepting defeat easily, naming what is possible as impossible. These are not the challenges Paul speaks of. Paul lifts his eyes to something higher still, to what is impossible were it not for God’s strength.

 Paul continues this discussion beyond the words printed above. He asks, “Does it sound as though I am bragging about all the challenges I have faced?” “I am!” Yet, Paul quickly states that he brags not to showcase his ability. Paul brags to demonstrate the wondrous work of Jesus through him. There are doors that we cannot walk through and storms we cannot endure on our own. That is when we make every difficulty an opportunity to lean into Christ and draw from Christ’s strength. The strength that sustained Paul through every force that sought to stop his ministry is available to every one of us. In our hearts we may ask, “Can I endure?”  Paul gives answer, “In Jesus, we are unbeatable.”




“Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave.”

Galatians 1:10 (Common English Bible)

My son, Nathanael, once asked me why I enjoyed Country music. “The stories,” I answered, “the stories that often come from lived experience – stories that rub up against our own stories. Stories that articulate what we may have struggled to express. Stories that occasionally point us to a resolution from hurt, pain, or loss that once seemed elusive. Voices, written by Sara Brice and performed by Jana Kramer sparkles with insight on mastering your self-image, particularly one that has been poisoned from negative “voices” in your head. No stranger to pain, Kramer credits Voices as her saving grace, granting her permission to shut out the negative voices that, over time and a failed marriage, took-up residence in her head. “I’m fighting voices in my head. Voices in my head telling me that I’m not enough. I’m not pretty and I’m broken. I’m not worthy of love.”

Kramer shares that the song’s lyrics were exactly what she needed to hear, giving her permission to grieve the loss of a marriage and returning strength to move past a negative narrative that placed all the blame on her. In an interview with, Kramer recalled listening to the demo Brice gave her on repeat for hours. The song got her so emotional that she would end up on the floor bawling and singing the song until she believed in it. Kramer recorded the song hoping that the song would provide comfort, hope, and healing for others just as it had for her. The resolution of the song occurs just as Kramer reaches exhaustion from the “voices” in her head that are defeating her: “Stop it, I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy with these voices that are spinning in my head. Tell my head to listen to my heart. And my heart says, I’m done with voices in my head.”

Here in his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul has become exhausted with the voices in his head, voices that question his authority to teach and preach, voices that confront him with falling approval polls for not holding a rigorous grasp upon sound Jewish ideology, voices that question Paul’s integrity – “Before God, I’m not lying about the things that I’m writing to you!” (Verse 20). In another letter, Paul confronts being bullied about poor oratory ability – “I know what some people are saying: ‘His letters are severe and powerful, but in person he is weak and his speech is worth nothing.’”[i] Tension builds between pleasing people and seeking God’s approval. The heaviness of Paul’s heart is on display in his failure to offer an expression of thanksgiving to the churches in Galatia so often found in his other letters. Paul’s heart now tells his head, “I’m done with voices in my head.”

Our thoughts, habits, and perception of ourselves must be informed by God’s claim upon us as God’s precious child, one for whom “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38). Kramer identifies the moment she takes hold of the narrative that dominates her life: “Stop it, I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy with these voices that are spinning my head. Tell my head to listen to my heart. And my heart says, I’m done with voices in my head.” It’s all inside each one of us – the capacity to take control of the driving narrative of our life. The image we carry around inside is the most important tool for self-esteem or defeat. Paul asks, in Galatians, a rhetorical question contrasting God’s approval with human approval. We must make the choice. Kramer concludes the song with her choice, “I am strong, I am beautiful.”


[i] 2 Corinthians 10:10 (Common English Bible)