Who Makes the First Move? Hallesby on John 4

Though it’s been a while since my last effort, I try, every now and then, to feature translations from the Scandinavians languages here on Trout and Cast Iron. Today’s comes from one of my favorites, Ole Hallesby. 


If you recognized God’s gift and if you knew who it is that says to you: Give me a drink!, then you would have prayed to him, and he would have given you living water.  – John 4.10

This is how Jesus saves us all:

He begins, not us. He seeks us out and he begins the conversation with us. We have not desired any conversation with him and we certainly seek to twist ourselves out of it, just as the woman at the well did. But he won’t let us slip out.

He talks with us in the silence of the night. He talks with us in church, although we did not go there to meet Jesus. And it is our salvation that Jesus tells us about, and he doesn’t ask our permission to bring it up.

But, there are some who won’t listen to Jesus. They twist themselves out, just as the woman at the well did in the beginning. Is there anyone in our little circle today who’s acted in the same way? Jesus has a little word for you, before we end our little devotion today: If you recognized God’s gift and if you knew who it is that says to you: Give me a drink!, then you would have prayed to him, and he would have given you living water.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 23.


What Does it Mean to Repent?

Which person among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, will not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one who is lost, until you find it? Luke 15.4


We have talked about those people who employ God’s love to run away from religion and afterwards smile all the time. But there are others who don’t smile.

There are never many. Jesus gives an illustrative expression in the parable where he talks about the one and the ninety nine.

Listen here, you lonely, fearful, wandering soul: Jesus loves you.

No, he doesn’t love me, you say. He’s mad at me. And rightly so! I have never done anything but sin against him.

Yeah, you’re right. If you look back on what you’ve done, you’ve got no hope. But all those things that you’ve done Jesus took upon himself. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our misdeeds, the punishment lay on him, so that we should have peace.”

That’s how He loves you.

In the same way, he’s worried about you when you run away. He’s been looking for you day and night. Haven’t you heard him calling?

Yes, yes you have. That’s why you’ve become ill at ease. That’s when your sins started to get so heavy.

But what do I do to find my way to God? you ask.

You don’t. And God hasn’t asked you to either. He’s the one who’s been looking for you. And now He’s found you. Now all He asks is that you hold still and He’ll put you on His shoulders and carry you home.

That’s what it means to repent.

Adapted from Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 177.

Go Away from me Lord! Hallesby on Luke 5.8

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down on his knees before Jesus and said: Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man! – Luke 5.8


If the Lord will live in a person’s heart, He first must crush it. And the hearts which He will use in His work, He will crush the most thoroughly.

It was not only Peter who recognized the terror in his heart. If the Lord will make us useful, we must be able to see our sin, and seeing sin breeds terror. We must look so deeply at our own heart, our own god-fearing, our own Christian work, such that it becomes our despair. If we shall receive “the wisdom which comes from God,” we must first see our own stupidity.

Therefore, do not become discouraged, my dear co-laborers, when you experience this crushing blow from the Lord. You think that everything is impossible, but nothing is as impossible as you doing something righteous in God’s kingdom.

You think that you are unworthy? Yes, but who is worthy? No one. It is only through grace that we become co-laborers in the Lord’s work. As long as you realize this, it will go well with your labors.

You realize that you’re ill-fitted for the work? Good. As long as you realize it, the Lord can use it. For there is nothing which can make you fitted that you don’t receive from God, and He gives grace to the humble.

No one is so well-suited to win over people as a humble person. A humble person never takes a high position among the believers. A humble person never sows splits and disagreements in the Lord’s flock. And a humble person has an entrance into the heart and conscience of the unconverted that nobody else has.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 104.


A Meditation for Long Friday

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. – 1st Corinthians 1.18

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God has spoken to us many times and in many ways through the prophets. “In these last days,” He has spoken to us through the Son. And it was a powerful speech, spoken both with his words and his deeds.

But the cross is without comparison his most powerful sermon.

The cross on Golgotha is history’s and the world’s turning point.

It is the most dreadful and the most lovely place on our earth.

There, on the cross, God reveals the two most powerful and secret realities in existence: sin and grace.

No person knows sin before they stand at the feet of Jesus’ cross. And because the majority of people will not stand at the foot of the cross, they look thoughtlessly and heedlessly upon their sin.

What does the cross say about people’s sin?

It says that people are enemies of God. It says that people are not only evil; they are so evil at they can’t endure good. So evil that they killed the one good person. And they didn’t kill him by accident. They killed him deliberately with an expertly prepared execution. And it was our world’s most religious people who did it.

Further, Christ’s cross proclaims that sin is so awful that the almighty and all-loving God cannot forgive it without atonement.

But he cannot demand the atonement of anyone else. Instead, God himself becomes human in order to suffer and die for his enemies.

Dearly beloved children of God, let us behold sin’s horrible seriousness. Let Jesus’ lament from the cross pierce us to the bone, so that Jesus’ suffering can give us the fear and trembling that preserves us from despising his grace.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 82.




A Meditation for Palm Sunday

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe, help my unbelief! – Mark 9.24


Thus cried out the believing father in his need. And thus cry out all the faithful in their need. The Scriptures tell about faith’s secret, and, in truth, faith is a secret-filled thing. Among others, we find the secret of faith, that one can never be born again without the old self dying. The self’s death and faith’s birth are inseparable.

And death is always painful; the death of the old self is no different, and so, there will always be a painful side of faith. A sinner cannot come to faith in Christ, without at the same time losing faith in himself.

Therefore, in its beginning, faith is always a sorrowing, sighing, crying, doubting faith, because a sinner doesn’t see his faith; a sinner only sees his unbelief. And so we pray unceasingly, like the desperate father, “Help my unbelief!”

But, in other ways, we can see that faith is there. First and foremost, because the sinner suffers on account of his unbelief, and prays for faith.

At that point, faith is already a reality with him, for to believe is to come to Christ with your sins, as the Haugeans say.

He who comes to the feet of Christ’s cross with all his daily sins, he believes, even if he can only see his own doubt, and cannot yet see his faith.

Faith only lives as long as it is wrestling, says Luther.

Here this, you dear children of God, who so often are unsettled and never can grasp your faith as well as you wish.

Cry out like the father in the text: I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 81.

A Meditation for Failed Lenten Disciplines

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1.6


He began. He began in baptism. With us all. But unfortunately it hasn’t gone so well with all of us; we’ve interrupted his good work. We’ve abandoned our father’s house and gone out into a strange land.

But even if we’ve abandoned him, he hasn’t given up on us. He’s followed us the whole way. And he calls after us where ever we go. Even in the middle of sin’s vilest moments, we hear his mild and serious voice.

Already in our childhood years, at confirmation time, as teenagers, he overwhelms us with his grace. Finally, we stop and he convinces us that there is no doubt that we need to turn ourselves around.

And then he puts our old selves to death. He talks with us about our sinful lives and our sinful hearts, until all our escape routes are closed off and we can’t believe that there is any way for us to be saved. But at the same time he grabs hold of us. The grace of baptism which we had closed ourselves off from comes streaming back into our souls. We were baptized into Jesus’ death and now we behold the Word and see the Lamb of God.

And then? What do we do with all of this? We screw it up. Before repentance, we fled every time his gentle voice called to us. We fussed and lied about ourselves and about God, trying to find peace in sin. But he came to us and he melted our defiant will. He gave us repentance.

And after repentance? Have we given him up screwing up? No! We grieve him and disappoint him every day with our selfishness and self-indulgence and quarreling and indifference and mistrust!

But he continues the good work that he had begun and picks us back up when we’ve fallen. What incredible dependability!

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 75.

Ole Hallesby on Married Life

Ole Hallesby was a Norwegian pastor and professor in the first half of the 20th century. He was one of the founding members of Menighetsfakultetet, the Norwegian theological seminary where I did research in 2012. While several of his books were translated into English during his lifetime, he is all but forgotten among Lutherans in the United States. I find his devotional writings and his sermons both up-building and a good way to keep up my Norwegian. Periodically, when I encounter a piece that I find particularly compelling, I will translate it into English and feature it here. In this devotion from December 22nd, Hallesby discusses what it takes to make a Christian home: 


Today, salvation has come to this house. – Luke 19.9

No Christian work is more difficult than building a Christian home. But many are not clear about this. Their Christian work goes out to conferences and societies. But they don’t put any work into building a Christian home, or, at any rate, not any planned and purposeful work. A home isn’t created when to people get together and get married. It also doesn’t come with a luxurious appearance and a lot of money and good company and parties. It doesn’t even come about because the two people are Christians.

The home is shaped by the way it gladdens these two to live together. It’s shaped by the open, intimate, revealing, and forgiving life of love between the two. This is the decisive matter for all relationships in the home, even the relationships to children, servants, friends, and guests.

The secret of the Christian home is to be Christian together. Therefore we must see what our daily Christian work looks like:

Every day, we will meet God together in common devotion: prayer, reading, and song. Yes, let us sing together. Song unites us in a mysterious way. And let us be helped so that our devotion becomes a moment of celebration in our home every day. But, we must pray for this. We pray for ways to go forward. But nothing needs to be improved in our prayer quite like our daily home devotion. Otherwise it sinks down to become like the driest business meeting.

And you, good God, we thank for the home that you have given us. First for our parent’s home with all its bright joys of childhood. And now we thank you for that home we have established. Lord, preserve us from the sins that destroy the home! Amen.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 363.