Our Daily Bread
When my friend David’s wife developed Alzheimer’s disease, the changes it brought to his life made him bitter. He needed to retire early to care for her; and as the disease progressed, she required increasingly more care.
“I was so angry at God,” he told me. “But the more I prayed about it, the more He showed me my heart and how I had been selfish for most of our marriage.” Tears welled in his eyes as he confessed, “She’s been sick ten years, but God has helped me see things differently. Now, everything I do out of love for her, I also do for Jesus. Caring for her has become the greatest privilege of my life.”
Sometimes God answers our prayers not by giving us what we want but by challenging us to change. When the prophet Jonah was angry because God spared the wicked city of Nineveh from destruction, God caused a plant to shade him from the hot sun (Jonah 4:6). Then He made it wither. When Jonah complained, God answered, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (vv. 7–9). Jonah, focused only on himself, insisted it was. But God challenged him to think about others and have compassion.
God sometimes uses our prayers in unexpected ways to help us learn and grow. It’s a change we can welcome with open hearts because He wants to transform us with His love.
I’m encouraged every time I visit the fitness center near our house. In that busy place, I’m surrounded by others who are striving to improve their physical health and strength. Posted signs remind us not to judge each other, but words and actions that reveal support for others’ conditioning efforts are always welcomed.
What a great picture of how things should look in the spiritual realm of life! Those of us who are striving to “get in shape” spiritually, to grow in our faith, can sometimes feel as if we don’t belong because we’re not as spiritually fit—as mature in our walk with Jesus—as someone else.
Paul gave us this short, direct suggestion: “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And to the believers in Rome he wrote: “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:2). Recognizing that our Father is so lovingly gracious with us, let’s show God’s grace to others with encouraging words and actions.
As we “accept one another” (v. 7), let’s entrust our spiritual growth to God—to the work of His Spirit. And while we daily seek to follow Him, may we create an atmosphere of encouragement for our brothers and sisters in Jesus as they also seek to grow in their faith.
“Estera, you got a present from our friend Helen!” my mom told me when she got home from work. Growing up we didn’t have much, so receiving a present in the mail was like a second Christmas. I felt loved, remembered, and valued by God through this wonderful woman.
The poor widows Tabitha (Dorcas) made clothes for must have felt the same way. She was a disciple of Jesus living in Joppa who was well known in the community for her acts of kindness. She was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). Then she got sick and passed away. At the time Peter was visiting a nearby city, so two believers went after him and begged him to come to Joppa.
When Peter arrived, the widows Tabitha had helped showed him the evidence of her kindness—“the robes and other clothing that [she] had made” (v. 39). We don’t know if they asked him to intervene, but led by the Holy Spirit Peter prayed and God brought her back to life! The result of God’s kindness was that “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42).
As we are kind to those around us, may they think of God and feel valued by Him.
Finally, on January 8, 1964, 17-year-old Randy Gardner did something he hadn’t done for 11 days and 25 minutes: he nodded off to sleep. He wanted to beat the Guinness Book World Record for how long a human could stay awake. By drinking soft drinks and hitting the basketball court and bowling alley, Gardner rebuffed sleep for a week and a half. Before finally collapsing, his sense of taste, smell, and hearing went haywire. Decades later, Gardner suffered from severe bouts of insomnia. He set the record but also confirmed the obvious: sleep is essential.
Many of us struggle to get a decent night’s rest. Unlike Gardner who deprived himself intentionally, we might suffer sleeplessness for a number of reasons—including a mountain of anxieties: the fear of all we need to accomplish, the dread of others’ expectations, the distress of living at a frantic pace. Sometimes it is hard for us to turn off the fear and relax.
The psalmist tells us that “unless the
As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.
Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.
After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb, indeed, empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).
How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?
How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?
As artillery rounds fell around him with an earth-shaking whoomp, the young soldier prayed fervently, “Lord, if you get me through this, I’ll go to that Bible school Mom wanted me to.” God honored his focused prayer. My dad survived World War II, went to Moody Bible Institute, and invested his life in ministry.
Another warrior endured a different kind of crisis that drove him to God, but his problems arose when he avoided combat. As King David’s troops fought the Ammonites, David was back at his palace casting more than just a glance at another man’s wife (see 2 Samuel 11). In Psalm 39, David chronicles the painful process of restoration from the terrible sin that resulted. “The turmoil within me grew worse,” he wrote. “The more I thought about it, the hotter I got” (vv. 2–3
David’s broken spirit caused him to reflect: “Show me,
What motivates our prayer life doesn’t matter as much as the focus of our prayer. God is our source of hope. He wants us to share our heart with Him.
My first pair of eyeglasses opened my eyes to a bold world. I’m nearsighted, meaning objects close up are sharp and defined. Without my glasses, however, items across a room or in the distance are a blur. At age twelve, with my first pair of eyeglasses, I was shocked to see clearer words on blackboards, tiny leaves on trees and, perhaps most important, big smiles on faces.
As friends smiled back when I greeted them, I learned that to be seen was as great a gift as the blessing of seeing.
The slave Hagar realized that as she fled from her mistress Sarai’s unkindness. Hagar was a “nobody” in her culture, pregnant and alone, fleeing to a desert without help or hope. Seen by God, however, she was empowered, in return, to see Him. No longer a vague concept, God became real to her, so real that she gave God a name, El Roi. “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (v. 13).
Our seeing God sees each of us, too. Feeling unseen, alone or like a “nobody”? God sees you and also your future. In return, may we see in Him our ever present hope, encouragement, salvation and joy—both for today and for our future. Praise Him today for this gift of amazing sight, to see the one true and Living God.
In the early 1960s, some unusual paintings featuring a person or animal with huge, sad eyes became popular. Some considered the work “kitschy”—or tacky—but others delighted in it. As the artist’s husband began to promote his wife’s creations, the couple grew quite prosperous. But the artist’s signature—Margaret Keane—didn’t appear on her work. Instead, Margaret’s husband presented his wife’s work as his own. Margaret fearfully remained silent about the fraud for twenty years until the couple’s marriage ended. It took a courtroom “paint-off” between them to prove the true artist’s identity.
The man’s deception was clearly wrong, but even as followers of Jesus, we may find it easy to take credit for talents we possess, leadership skills we display, or even for our kind deeds to others. But those qualities are possible only because of God’s grace. In Jeremiah 9, we find the prophet lamenting the lack of humility and the unrepentant hearts of the people. He wrote that the Lord says we shouldn’t boast of our wisdom, our strength, or our riches, but only that we might understand and know that He is the Lord “who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (v. 24).
Our hearts fill with gratitude as we realize the identity of the true Artist. “Every good and perfect gift is . . . from the Father” (James 1:17). All of the credit, all of the praise belongs to the Giver of good gifts.
A work assignment had taken my coworker and me on a 250-mile journey, and it was late when we began our trip home. An aging body with aging eyes makes me a bit uneasy about nighttime driving; nevertheless, I opted to drive first. My hands gripped the steering wheel and my eyes gazed intently at dimly lit roads. While driving I found I could see better when lights from vehicles behind me beamed on the highway before me. I was much relieved when my friend eventually took the wheel of his vehicle. That’s when he discovered that I had been driving with “fog lights” and not the headlights!
Psalm 119 is the masterful composition of one who understood that God’s Word provides us with light for everyday living (v. 105). Yet, how often do we find ourselves in situations similar to my uncomfortable night on the highway? We needlessly strain to see, and we sometimes stray from the best paths because we forget to use the light of God’s Word. Psalm 119 encourages us to be intentional about “hitting the light switch.” What happens when we do? We find wisdom for purity (vv. 9–11); we discover fresh motivation and encouragement for avoiding detours (vv. 101–102). And when we live with the lights on the psalmist’s praise is likely to become our praise: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (v. 97).
Who am I? That’s the question a faded stuffed animal asks himself in the children’s book Nothing by Mick Inkpen. Left in a dusty corner of an attic, the animal hears movers call him “nothing” and thinks that’s his name: Nothing.
Encounters with other animals spark memories. Nothing realizes that he used to have a tail, whiskers, and stripes. But it’s not until he meets a tabby cat who helps him find his way home that Nothing remembers who he truly is: a stuffed cat named Toby. His owner lovingly restores him, sewing on new ears, tail, whiskers, and stripes.
Whenever I read this book, I think about my own identity. Who am I? John, writing to believers, said that God has called us His children (1 John 3:1). We don’t fully understand that identity, but when we see Jesus, we will be like him (v. 2). Just like Toby the cat, we will one day be restored to the identity intended for us, which has been marred by sin. For now, we can understand that identity in part, and we can recognize the image of God in each other. But one day, when we see Jesus, we will be fully restored to the identity God intended for us. We will be made new.