Our Daily Bread
Some things just don’t make sense until you experience them. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read multiple books about childbirth and listened to dozens of women tell their stories of labor and delivery. But I still couldn’t really imagine what the experience would be like. What my body was going to do seemed impossible!
Birth into God’s kingdom, the salvation that God offers us through Christ, seems equally incomprehensible to those who haven’t experienced it, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians. It sounds like “foolishness” to say that salvation could come through a cross — a death marked by weakness, defeat, and humiliation. Yet this “foolishness” was the salvation that Paul preached!
It wasn’t what anyone could have imagined it would be like. Some people thought that salvation would come through a strong political leader or a miraculous sign. Others thought that their own academic or philosophical achievements would be their salvation (1 Corinthians 1: 22). But God surprised everyone by bringing salvation in a way that would only make sense to those who believed, to those who experienced it.
God took something shameful and weak—death on a cross—and made it the foundation of wisdom and power. God does the unimaginable. He chooses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
And His surprising, confounding ways are always the best ways.
On November 27, 1939, three treasure hunters accompanied by film crews dug through the asphalt outside of the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater in Southern California. They were looking for the Cahuenga Pass treasure, consisting of gold, diamonds, and pearls rumored to have been buried there seventy-five years earlier.
They never found it. After twenty-four days of digging, they struck a boulder and stopped. All they accomplished was a nine-foot-wide, forty-two-foot-deep hole in the ground. They walked away dejected.
To err is human—we all fail sometimes. God’s Word tells us that young Mark walked away from Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip “and had not continued with them in the work.” Because of this, “Paul did not think it wise to take him” on his next trip (Acts 15:37–38), which resulted in a strong disagreement with Barnabas. But in spite of his initial failings, Mark shows up years later in surprising ways. When Paul was lonely and in prison toward the end of his life, he asked for Mark and called him “helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). God even inspired Mark to write the gospel that bears his name.
Mark’s life shows us that God won’t leave us to face our errors and failures alone. We have a Friend who’s greater than every mistake. As we follow our Savior, He’ll provide the help and strength we need.
Just outside my kitchen window, a robin built her nest under the eaves of our patio roof. I loved watching her tuck grasses into a safe spot and then hunker down to incubate the eggs. Each morning I checked her progress but each morning, there was nothing. Robin eggs take two weeks to hatch.
Such impatience isn’t new for me. I’ve always strained against the work of waiting, especially in prayer. My husband and I waited nearly five years to adopt our first child. Decades ago, author Catherine Marshall wrote, “Prayers, like eggs, don’t hatch as soon as we lay them.”
The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with waiting in prayer. Frustrated at God’s silence with Babylon’s brutal mistreatment of the southern kingdom of Judah, Habakkuk commits to “stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts,” to “look to see what he will say to me” (Habakkuk 2:1). The Lord replies that Habakkuk is to wait for the “appointed time” (v. 3) and directs Habakkuk to “write down the revelation” so the word can be spread as soon as it’s given (v. 2).
What God doesn’t mention is that the “appointed time” when Babylon falls will be six decades away, creating a long gap between promise and fulfillment. Like eggs, prayers often don’t hatch immediately but rather incubate in God’s overarching purposes for our world and our lives.
I’ve always had a collector's heart. As a kid, I collected stamps. Baseball cards. Comics. Now, as a parent, I see the same impulse in my kids. Sometimes I wonder, Do you really need another teddy bear?
Of course, it’s not about need. It’s about the allure of something new. Or sometimes the tantalizing draw of something old, something rare. Whatever captivates our imagination, we’re tempted to believe that if we only had “X,” our lives would be better. We’d be happy. Content.
Except, those things never deliver the goods. Why? Because God created us to be filled by Him, not by the created things that the world around us often insists will satisfy our longing hearts.
This tension is hardly new. Proverbs contrasts two ways of life: a life spent pursuing riches versus a life grounded in loving God and giving generously. In The Message, Eugene Petersen paraphrases Proverbs 11:28 like this: “A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.”
What a picture! Two ways of life: one flourishing and fruitful, one hollow and barren. The world insists that material abundance equals “the good life.” In contrast, God invites us to be rooted in Him, to experience His goodness and to flourish fruitfully. And as we’re shaped by our relationship with Him, God reshapes our hearts and desires, transforming us from the inside out.
Psychiatrist Robert Coles once noticed a pattern in those who burn out while serving others. The first warning sign is weariness. Next comes cynicism about things ever improving, then bitterness, despair, depression, and finally burnout.
After writing a book about recovering from broken dreams, I once entered a busy season of conference speaking. Helping people find hope after disappointment was richly rewarding, but came at a cost. One day, about to step on stage, I thought I was going to faint. I hadn’t slept well, a vacation hadn’t fixed my weariness, and the thought of hearing another person’s problems afterward filled me with dread. I was following Coles’ pattern.
Scripture gives two strategies for beating burnout. In Isaiah 40, the weary soul is renewed when it hopes in the Lord (vv. 29–31). I needed to rest in God, trusting Him to work, rather than pushing on in my own dwindling strength. And Psalm 103 says God renews us by satisfying our desires with good things (v. 5). While this includes forgiveness and redemption (vv. 3–4), provisions of joy and play come from Him too. When I reworked my schedule to include more prayer, rest, and hobbies like photography, I began to feel healthy again.
Burnout begins with weariness. Let’s stop it going further. We will serve others best when our lives include both worship and rest.
Disillusioned and wanting a more meaningful life, Leon quit his job in finance. Then one day he saw a homeless man holding up a sign at a street corner: KINDNESS IS THE BEST MEDICINE. Leon says, “Those words rammed straight into me. It was an epiphany.”
Leon decided to begin his new life by creating an international organization to promote kindness. He travels around the world, relying on strangers to provide him with food, gas, and a place to stay. Then he rewards them with good deeds of his own such as feeding orphans or building on to a school for underprivileged children. He says, “It’s sometimes seen as being soft. But kindness is a profound strength.”
Christ’s very essence as God is goodness, so kindness naturally flowed from Him. I love the story of what Jesus did when He came upon the funeral procession of a widow’s only son (Luke 7:11–17). The grieving woman most likely was dependent on her son for financial support. We don’t read in the story that anyone asked Jesus to intervene. Purely from the goodness of His nature (v. 13), Jesus was concerned and brought her son back to life. The people said of Him, “God has come to help his people” (v. 16).
“We’re in the library, and we can see the flames right outside!” She was scared, we could hear it in her voice. We know her voice—she’s our daughter. At the same time we knew her college campus was the safest place for her and her almost 3,000 fellow students. The 2018 Woolsey Fire spread quicker than anyone anticipated—most of all fire personnel. The record heat and dry conditions in the California canyon, along with the legendary Santa Ana winds, were all the rather small sparks needed to ultimately burn 97,000 acres, destroy over 1,600 structures, and kill three people. In the photos taken after the fire was contained, the usual lush coastline resembled the barren surface of the moon.
In the book of James, the author starts out naming small but powerful things: “bits in the mouths of horses” and the rudders of ships (James 3:3-4). And while familiar, these examples are somewhat removed from us. But then he names something a little closer to home, something small that every human being possesses—a tongue. And while this chapter is first directed specifically to teachers (v. 1), the application quickly spreads to each of us. The tongue, small as it is can lead to disastrous results.
Our small tongues are powerful, but our big God is more powerful. His help on a daily basis provides the strength to rein in and guide our words.
Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some schoolchildren in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on fruit, which the kids dubbed, “talking bananas.”
This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’s heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.
New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They are full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often, the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.
Those of us who have walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard the Christian life can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth.
My husband’s brother lives about 1,200 miles away in the mountains of Colorado. Despite the distance, Gerrits has always been a beloved family member because of his great sense of humor and kind heart. However, as long as I can remember, his siblings have good-naturedly joked about his favored status in their mother’s eyes. Several years ago, they even presented him with a T-shirt sporting the words “I’m Mom’s Favorite.”
While we all enjoyed the silliness of our siblings, true favoritism is no joking matter. In Genesis 37, we read about Jacob who gave his son Joseph an ornate coat—an indication to his other children that Joseph was special (v. 3). Without a hint of subtlety, the coat’s message shouted: “Joseph is my favorite son.”
Displaying favoritism can be crippling in a family. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had favored him over her son Esau, leading to a schism between the two brothers (25:28). The dysfunction was perpetuated when Jacob favored his wife Rachel (Joseph’s mother) over his wife Leah, creating discord and heartache (29:30–31). No doubt this pattern was the unhealthy basis for Joseph’s brothers to despise their younger brother, even considering his murder (37:17–20).
When it comes to our relationships, we may sometimes find it tricky to be objective. But our goal must be to treat everyone without favoritism and to love every person in our life as our Father loves us (John 13:34).
“Everybody on the left, give me three strong forward strokes!” our whitewater raft guide shouted. Those on the left dug in, pulling our raft away from a churning vortex. For several hours, we'd learned the importance of listening to our guide's instructions. His steady voice enabled six people with little rafting experience to work together to plot the safest course down a raging river.
Life has its share of whitewater rapids, doesn't it? One moment, it's smooth sailing. Then, in a flash, we're paddling like mad to avoid suddenly swirling whirlpools. Those tense moments make us keenly aware of our need for a skilled guide, a trusted voice to help us navigate turbulent times.
In Psalm 32, God promises to be that voice: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go” (v. 8). Backing up, we see that confessing our sins (v. 5) and prayerfully seeking Him (v. 6) play a role in hearing Him too. Still, I take comfort in the fact that God promises, “I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (v. 8), a reminder that His guidance flows from His love. Near the end of the chapter, the psalmist concludes, “The L
And as we trust Him, we can rest in His promise to guide us through life's rockiest passages.