Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread
Lara and Dave desperately wanted a baby, but their physician told them they were unable to have one. Lara confided to a friend: “I found myself having some very honest talks with God.” But it was after one of those “talks” that she and Dave spoke to their pastor, who told them about an adoption ministry at their church. A year later they were blessed with an adopted baby boy.
In Genesis 15, the Bible tells of another honest conversation—this one between Abram and God. God had told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am . . . your very great reward” (v. 1). But Abram, uncertain of God’s promises about his future, answered candidly: “Sovereign
Earlier God had promised Abram, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). Now Abram—in a very human moment—reminded God of that. But note God’s response: He assured Abram by telling him to look up and “count the stars—if indeed you can,” indicating his descendants would be beyond numbering (15:5).
How good is God, not only to allow such candid prayer but also to gently reassure Abram. Later, God would change his name to Abraham (“father of many”). Like Abraham, you and I can openly share our hearts with Him and know that we can trust Him to do what’s best for us and others.
In 2019, Hurricane Dorian was overwhelming the islands of the Bahamas with intense rain, wind, and flooding—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. Sheltering at home with his adult son who has cerebral palsy, Brent knew they needed to leave. Even though Brent is blind, he had to save his son. Tenderly, he placed him over his shoulders and stepped into chin-deep water to carry him to safety. If an earthly father facing a great obstacle himself is eager to help his son, think of how much more our heavenly Father is concerned about His children.
The Old Testament tells how God carried His people even as they experienced the danger of faltering faith. Moses was reminding the Israelites how God had delivered them, providing food and water in the desert, fighting against their enemies, and guiding the Israelites with pillars of cloud and fire. Meditating on the many ways God acted on their behalf, Moses said, “There you saw how the L
The Israelites’ journey through the wilderness wasn’t easy and their faith waned at times. But it was also full of evidence of God’s protection and provision. The image of a father carrying a son—tenderly, courageously, confidently—is a wonderful picture of how God cared for Israel. Even when you face challenges that test your faith, remember that God is there carrying you through them
When BBC Music Magazine asked one hundred fifty-one of the world’s leading conductors to list twenty of what they believed to be the greatest symphonies ever written, Beethoven’s Third, Eroica, came out on top. The work, whose title means “heroic,” was written during the turmoil of the French revolution. But it also came out of Beethoven’s own struggle as he slowly lost his hearing. The music evokes extreme swings of emotion that express what it means to be human and alive while facing challenges. Through wild swings of happiness, sadness, and eventual triumph Beethoven’s Third Symphony is regarded as a timeless tribute to the human spirit.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians deserves our attention for similar reasons. Through inspired words rather than musical scores it rises in blessing (1:4–9), falls in the sadness of soul-crushing conflict (11:17–22), and rises again in the unison of gifted people working together for one another and for the glory of God (12:6–7).
The difference is that here we see the triumph of our human spirit as a tribute to the Spirit of God. As he urges us to experience together the inexpressible love of Christ, Paul helps us see ourselves as called together by our Father, led by his Son, and inspired by his Spirit—not for noise, but for our contribution to the greatest symphony of all.
For five years in the late 1800s, grasshoppers descended on Minnesota, destroying the crops. Farmers tried trapping the grasshoppers in tar and burning their fields to kill the eggs. Feeling desperate, and on the brink of starvation, many people sought a statewide day of prayer, yearning to seek God’s help together. The governor relented, setting aside April 26 to pray.
In the days after the collective prayer, the weather warmed and the eggs started to come to life. But then four days later a drop in temperature surprised and delighted many, for the freezing temperatures killed the larvae. Minnesotans once again would harvest their crops of corn, wheat, and oats.
Prayer was also behind the saving of God’s people during the reign of King Jehoshaphat. When the king learned that a vast army was coming against him, he called God’s people to pray and fast. The people reminded God how He’d saved them in times past. And Jehoshaphat said that if calamity came upon them, “whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine,” they would cry out to God knowing that He would hear and save them (2 Chronicles 20:9).
God rescued His people from the invading armies, and He hears us when we cry out to Him in distress. Whatever your concern, whether a relationship or something threatening from the natural world, lift it to God in prayer. Nothing it too hard for Him.
I applied for a position in a Christian organization years ago and was presented with a list of legalistic rules having to do with the use of alcohol, tobacco, and certain forms of entertainment. “We expect Christian behavior from our employees” was the explanation. I could agree with this list because I, for reasons mostly unrelated to my faith, didn't do those things. But my argumentative side thought, Why don’t they have a list about not being arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, and critical? None of these were addressed.
Following Jesus can’t be defined by a list of rules. It’s a subtle quality of life that’s difficult to quantify but can best be described as “beautiful.”
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–10 sum up that beauty: Those who are indwelt by and dependent on the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They’re deeply touched by the suffering of others. They’re gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They’re merciful to those who struggle and fail. They’re single-minded in their love for Jesus. They’re peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They’re kind to those who misuse them, returning good for evil. And they’re blessed, a word that means “happy” in the deepest sense.
This kind of life attracts the attention of others and belongs to those who come to Jesus and ask Him for it.
It was a lightning storm, and my six-year-old daughter and I laid down on the floor to watch the dazzling display through the glass door. She kept repeating, “Wow! God is so big.” I felt the same way. It was obvious to both of us how small we were, and how powerful God must be. Lines from the book of Job flashed through my mind, “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?” (Job 38:24)
Job needed to be reminded of God’s power (vv. 34–41). His life had fallen apart. His children were dead. He was broke. He was sick. His friends offered no empathy. His wife encouraged him to abandon his faith (2:9). Eventually, Job asked God, “Why?” (ch. 24) and He responded out of a storm (ch. 38).
God reminded Job of His control over the physical attributes of the world (Job 38). This comforted him and he responded, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). In other words, “Now I get it, God! I see that you don’t fit into my box.”
When life falls apart, sometimes the most comforting thing we can do is to lay on the floor and watch the lightning—to be reminded that the God who created the world is big enough and loving enough to take care of us too. We may even start singing our favorite worship songs that tell of the might and greatness of our God.
When the Nazis drafted Franz Jägerstätter during World War II, he completed military basic training but refused to take the required pledge of personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Authorities allowed Franz to return to his farm, but they later summoned him to active duty. After seeing Nazi ideology up close and learning of the Jewish genocide, however, Jägerstätter decided his loyalty to God meant he could never fight for the Nazis. He was arrested and sentenced to execution, leaving behind his wife and three daughters.
Over the years, many believers in Jesus—under peril of death—have offered a firm refusal when commanded to disobey God. The story of Daniel is one such story. When a royal edict threatened that anyone “who pray[ed] to any god or human being except [the king]” (Daniel 6:12) would be thrown into the lions’ den, Daniel discarded safety and remained faithful. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (v. 10). The prophet would bend his knee to God—and only God—no matter the cost.
Sometimes, our choice is clear. Though everyone around us implores us to go along with prevailing opinion, though our own reputation or well-being may be at risk—may we never turn from our obedience to God. Sometimes, even at great cost, all we can offer is a firm refusal.
One of the most moving songs in the musical The Greatest Showman is “From Now On.” Sung after the main character comes to some painful self-realizations about the ways he’d wounded family and friends, the song celebrates the joy of coming back home and finding that what we already have is more than enough.
The book of Hosea concludes with a similar tone—one of breathless joy and gratitude at the restoration God makes possible for those who return to Him. Much of the book, which compares the relationship between God and His people to a relationship with an unfaithful spouse, grieves Israel’s failures to love Him and live for Him.
But in chapter 14, Hosea lifts up the promise of God’s boundless love, grace, and restoration—freely available to those who return to Him heartbroken over the ways they’ve abandoned Him (vv. 1–3). “I will heal their waywardness,” God promises, “and love them freely” (v. 4). And what had seemed broken beyond repair will once more find wholeness and abundance, as God’s grace, like dew, causes His people to “blossom like a lily” and “flourish like the grain” (vv. 5–7).
When we’ve hurt others or taken for granted God’s goodness in our life, it’s easy to assume we’ve forever marred the good gifts we’ve been given. But when we humbly turn to Him, we find His love is always reaching to embrace and restore.
After hearing a message about correcting injustice, a church member approached the pastor weeping, asking for forgiveness and confessing that he hadn’t voted in favor of calling the black minister to be pastor of their church because of his own prejudice. “I really need you to forgive me. I don’t want the junk of prejudice and racism spilling over into my kids’ lives. I didn’t vote for you, and I was wrong.” His tears and confession were met with the tears and forgiveness of the minister. A week later, the entire church rejoiced upon hearing the man’s testimony of how God had worked in his heart.
Even Peter, a disciple of Jesus and a chief leader in the early church, had to be corrected because of his ill-conceived notions about non-Jewish people. Eating and drinking with gentiles (who were considered unclean), was a violation of social and religious protocol. Peter said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). It took nothing less than the supernatural activity of God (vv. 9–23) to convince him that he “should not call anyone impure or unclean” (v. 28).
Through the preaching of Scripture, the conviction of the Spirit, and life experiences God continues to work in human hearts to correct our misguided perspectives about others. He helps us to see that “God does not show favoritism” (v. 34).
On July 16, 1999, the small plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Investigators determined the cause of the accident to be a common error known as spatial disorientation. This phenomenon occurs when, due to poor visibility, pilots become disoriented and forget to rely on their instruments to help them successfully reach their destination.
As we navigate life, there are often times when life gets so overwhelming we feel disoriented. A cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a job loss, a betrayal by a friend—life’s unexpected tragedies can easily leave us feeling lost and confused.
When we find ourselves in these kinds of situations, we might try offering the prayer of Psalm 43. In this psalm, the psalmist is overwhelmed and feeling lost because he feels surrounded by evil and injustice. In despair, the psalmist pleads with God to provide His sure guidance to help him safely navigate through the situation to his desired destination, God’s presence (vv. 3–4). In God’s presence the psalmist knows he will find renewed hope and joy.
What are the tools the psalmist requests for guidance? The light of truth and the assurance of God’s presence by His Holy Spirit.
When you’re feeling disoriented and lost, God’s faithful guidance through His Spirit and loving presence can comfort you and light your way.
Having tried for years to conceive, Richard and Susan were elated when Susan became pregnant. Her health problems, however, posed a risk to the baby, and so Richard lay awake each night praying for his wife and child. One night, Richard sensed he didn’t need to pray so hard, that God had promised to take care of things. But a week later Susan miscarried. Richard was devastated. He wondered, Had they lost the baby because he hadn’t prayed hard enough?
On first reading, we might think today’s parable suggests so. In the story, a neighbor (sometimes thought to represent God) only gets out of bed to help the friend because of the friend’s annoying persistence (Luke 11:5–8). Read this way, the parable suggests that God will give us what we need only if we badger Him. And if we don’t pray hard enough, maybe God won’t help us.
But biblical commentators like Klyne Snodgrass believe this misunderstands the parable—its real point being that if neighbors might help us for selfish reasons, how much more will our unselfish Father. We can therefore ask confidently (vv. 9–10), knowing that God is greater than flawed human beings (vv. 11–13). He isn’t the neighbor in the parable, but the opposite of him.
“I don’t know why you lost your baby,” I told Richard, “but I know it wasn’t because you didn’t pray ‘hard’ enough. God isn’t like that.”
On one side of the street a homeowner displays in his yard a giant blow-up bald eagle draped in a US flag. A big truck sits in the driveway, and its side window has a painted flag and the back bumper is covered with patriotic stickers. Directly across the street in a neighbor’s yard are signs that highlight the slogans for current social justice issues in the news.
Are the people in these homes feuding or friends? we might wonder. Is it possible that both families are believers in Jesus? God calls us to live out the words of James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Too often we stubbornly hold on to our opinions and aren’t willing to consider what others are thinking. The Matthew Henry Commentary says about this verse: “We should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak . . . and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath.”
Someone has said, “Learning requires listening.” The practical words from God in the book of James can only be accomplished if we’re filled with God’s loving Spirit and choose to respect others. He’s willing to help us make changes in our hearts and attitudes. Are we open to listen and learn?
When Conner and Sarah Smith moved five miles up the road, their cat S’mores expressed his displeasure by running away. One day Sarah saw a current photo of their old farmhouse on social media. There was S’mores in the picture!
Happily the Smiths went to retrieve him. S’mores ran away again. Guess where he went. This time, the family that had purchased their house agreed to keep S’mores too. The Smiths couldn’t stop the inevitable; S’mores would always return “home.”
Nehemiah served in a prestigious position in the king’s court in Susa, but his heart was elsewhere. He had just heard news of the sad condition of “the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:3). And so he prayed, e had H“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, . . . ‘if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ ” (1:8–9).
Home is where the heart is, they say. In Nehemiah’s case, longing for home was more than being tied to the land. It was communion with God that he most desired. Jerusalem was “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
The dissatisfaction we sense deep down is actually a longing for God. We’re yearning to be home with Him.
Although Sam had done nothing wrong, he lost his job on the assembly line. Carelessness in another division led to problems in cars they built. After several crashes made the news, leery customers stopped buying their brand. The company had to downsize, leaving Sam out of work. He’s collateral damage, and it isn’t fair. It never is.
History’s first collateral damage occurred immediately after the first sin. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness, so God graciously clothed them with “garments of skin” (v. 21). It’s painful to imagine, but one or more animals that had always felt safe with God were now slaughtered and skinned.
There was more to come. God told Israel, “Every day you are to provide a year-old lamb without defect for a burnt offering to the
Their death was necessary to cover our sin until Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to remove it (John 1:29). Call this “collateral repair.” As Adam’s sin kills us, so the Last Adam’s [Christ’s] obedience restores all who believe in Him (Romans 5:17–19). Collateral repair isn’t fair—it cost Jesus’ life—but it’s free. Reach out to Jesus in belief and receive the salvation He offers, and His righteous life will count for you.
As the cabbie drove us to London’s Heathrow Airport, he told us his story. He had come alone to the United Kingdom at age fifteen, seeking to escape war and deprivation. Now, eleven years later, he has a family of his own and is able to provide for them in ways unavailable in his native land. But he laments that he’s still separated from his parents and siblings. He told us that he has had a hard journey that won’t be complete until he’s reunited with his family.
Being separated from our loved ones in this life is hard, but losing a loved one in death is much harder and creates a sense of loss that won’t be made right until we’re reunited with them. When the new believers at Thessalonica wondered about such losses, Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He explained that as believers in Jesus, we can live in expectation of a wonderful reunion—together forever in the presence of Christ (v. 17).
Few experiences mark us so deeply as the separations we endure, but in Jesus we have hope of being reunited. And in the midst of grief and loss we can find the comfort (v. 18) we need in that enduring promise.
I set my Bible on the podium and stared at the eager faces waiting for me to begin the message. I’d prayed and prepared. Why couldn’t I speak?
You’re worthless. No one will ever listen to you, especially if they know your past. And God would never use you. Seared into my heart and mind, the words spoken in various ways over my life ignited a decade-long war against the lies I so easily believed. Though I knew the words weren’t true, I couldn’t seem to escape my insecurities and fears. So, I opened my Bible.
Turning to Proverbs 30:5, I inhaled and exhaled slowly before reading out loud. “Every word of God is flawless,” I said, “he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” I closed my eyes as peace overwhelmed me, and I began to share my testimony with the crowd.
Many of us have experienced the paralyzing power of negative words or opinions others have of us. However, God’s words are “flawless,” perfect and absolutely sound. When we’re tempted to believe spirit-crushing ideas about our value or our purpose as God’s children, God’s enduring and infallible truth protects our minds and our hearts. We can echo the psalmist who wrote: “I remember,
Let’s combat lies we’ve accepted about God, ourselves, and others by replacing negative-speak with Scripture.
The English preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834–1892) lived life “full throttle.” He became a pastor at age 19—and soon was preaching to large crowds. He personally edited all of his sermons, which eventually filled sixty-three volumes, and wrote many commentaries, books on prayer, and other works. And he typically read six books a week! In one of his sermons, Spurgeon said, “The sin of doing nothing is about the biggest of all sins, for it involves most of the others. . . . Horrible idleness! God save us from it!”
Spurgeon lived with diligence, which meant he “[made] every effort” (2 Peter 1:5) to grow in God’s grace and to live for Him. If we are Christ’s followers, God can instill in us that same desire and capacity to grow more like Jesus, to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge . . . self-control, perseverance . . . godliness” (vv. 3, 5–7)
We each have different motivations, abilities, and energy levels—not all of us can, or should, live at Spurgeon’s pace! But when we understand all Jesus has done for us, we have the greatest motivation for diligent, faithful living. And we find our strength through the resources God has given us to live for and serve Him. God through His Spirit can empower us in our efforts—big and small—to do so.
For fourteen years, the Mars rover Opportunity faithfully communicated with the people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After it landed in 2004, it traversed twenty-eight miles of the Martian surface, took thousands of images, and analyzed many materials. But in 2018 communication between Opportunity and scientists ended when a major dust storm coated its solar panels, causing the rover to lose power.
Is it possible that we can allow “dust” to block our communication with Someone outside of our world? When it comes to prayer—communicating with God—there are certain things that can get in the way.
Scripture says that sin can block our relationship with God. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Jesus instructs, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Our communication with God can also be hindered by doubt and relationship problems (James 1:5–7; 1 Peter 3:7).
Opportunity’s blockage of communication seems to be permanent. But our prayers don’t have to be blocked. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God lovingly draws us to restored communication with Him. As we confess our sins and turn to Him, by God’s grace we experience the greatest communication the universe has ever known: one-to-one prayer between us and our holy God.
Ellen opened her mailbox and discovered a bulky envelope with her dear friend’s return address. Just a few days prior, she’d shared a relational struggle with that friend. Curious, she unwrapped the package and found a colorful beaded necklace on a simple jute string. Attached was a card with a company’s slogan, “Say it in Morse Code,” and words translating the necklace’s hidden and wise message, “Seek God’s Ways.” Ellen smiled as she fastened it about her neck.
The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings—many penned by Solomon, who was acclaimed as the wisest man of his era (1 Kings 10:23). Its thirty-one chapters call the reader to listen to wisdom and avoid folly, starting with the core message of 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Wisdom—knowing what to do when—comes from honoring God by seeking His ways. In the introductory verses, we read, “Listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8 nlt).
Ellen’s friend had directed her to the Source of the wisdom she needed: Seek God’s ways. Her gift focused Ellen’s attention on where to discover the help she needed.
When we honor God and seek His ways, we’ll receive the wisdom we need for all the matters we face in life. Each and every one.
John Sowers in his book Fatherless Generation writes that “No generation has seen as much voluntary father absence as this one with 25 million kids growing up in single-parent homes.” In my own experience, if I’d bumped into my father on the street, I wouldn’t have known him. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and all the photos of my dad were burned. So for years I felt fatherless. Then at age thirteen, I heard the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) and said to myself, You may not have an earthly father, but now you have God as your heavenly Father.
In Matthew 6:9 we’re taught to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Previously verse 7 says not to “keep on babbling” when praying, and we may wonder how these verses are connected. Then I realized that because God remembers, we don’t need to repeat. He truly understands, so we don’t need to explain. He has a compassionate heart, so we don’t need to be uncertain of His goodness. And because He knows the end from the beginning, we know His timing is perfect.
Because God is our Father, we don’t need to use “many words” (6:7) to move Him. Through prayer, we’re talking with a Father who loves and cares for us and made us His children through Jesus.
Alan came to me for advice on how to deal with his fear of public speaking. Like so many others, his heart would begin to race, his mouth would feel sticky and dry, and his face would flush bright red. Glossophobia is among the most common social fears people have—many even joke that they’re more fearful of public speaking than of dying! To help Alan conquer his fear of not “performing” well, I suggested he focus on the substance of his message instead of how well he’d deliver it.
Shifting the focus to what will be shared, instead of one’s ability to share it, is similar to Paul’s approach to pointing others to God. When he wrote to the church at Corinth, he remarked that his message and preaching “were not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Instead, he’d determined to focus solely on the truth of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion (v. 2), trusting the Holy Spirit to empower his words, not his eloquence as a speaker.
When we’ve come to know God personally, we’ll want to share about Him with those around us. Yet we sometimes shy away from it because we’re afraid of not presenting it well—with the “right” or eloquent words. By focusing instead on the “what”—the truth of who God is and His amazing works—we can, like Paul, trust Him to empower our words and share without fear or reluctance.
In the early days of the American Revolutionary War, an expedition was launched against British forces in Quebec. When the expedition passed through Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the way to Canada, they visited the tomb of the renowned evangelist George Whitefield. Whitefield’s coffin was opened and his clerical collar and cuffs were removed. The clothing was cut in pieces and distributed in the mistaken belief that it could somehow give the soldiers success.
The expedition failed. But what the soldiers did demonstrates our human tendency to trust in something less than a relationship with God—money or human strength or even religious traditions—for our ultimate well-being. God cautioned His people against this when invasion from Assyria threatened, and they sought Pharaoh’s help instead of turning from their sins and turning personally to Him: “This is what the Sovereign
Their “expedition” failed as well (just as God said it would) and Assyria overwhelmed Judah. But God also told His people, “The
At the sink, two little children happily sing the “Happy Birthday” song—two times each—while washing their hands. “It takes that long to wash away the germs,” their mother tells them. So even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d learned to take time to clean dirt from their hands.
Getting clean can be a tedious process, as we learned in the pandemic. Scrubbing away sin, however, means following focused steps back to God.
James urged believers in Jesus scattered throughout the Roman Empire to turn their focus back to God. Beset by quarrels and fights, their battles for one-upmanship, possessions, worldly pleasures, money, and recognition made them an enemy of God, James told them. Instead, he warned, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). As he said, “submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7)). But how?
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (v. 8). These are sanitizing words, describing the necessity of turning to God to scour away the soil of sin from our lives. James then further explained the cleaning method: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (vv. 9–10).
Dealing with our sin is humbling. But, hallelujah, God is faithful to turn our “washing” into worship.
In the novella Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy, main characters Sergey and Masha meet when Masha is young and impressionable. Sergey is an older, well-traveled businessman who understands the world beyond the rural setting where Masha lives. Over time, the two fall in love and marry.
They settle in the countryside, but Masha becomes bored with her surroundings. Sergey, who adores her, arranges a trip to St. Petersburg. There, Masha’s beauty and charm bring her instant popularity. Just as the couple is about to return home, a prince arrives in town, wanting to meet her. Sergey knows he can force Masha to leave with him, but he lets her make the decision. She chooses to stay, and her betrayal breaks his heart.
Like Sergey, God will never force us to be faithful to Him. Because He loves us, he lets us choose for or against Him. Our first choice for Him happens when we receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice for our sin (1 John 4:9–10). After that, we have a lifetime of decisions to make.
Will we choose faithfulness to God as His Spirit guides us, or let the world entice us? David’s life wasn’t perfect, but he often wrote about keeping “the ways of the Lord” and the good outcomes that came from doing so (Psalm 18:21–24). When our choices honor God, we can experience the blessing David described: to the faithful, God shows himself faithful.
Alice Kaholusuna recounts a story of how the Hawaiian people would sit outside their temples for a lengthy amount of time preparing themselves before entering in. Even after entering, they would creep to the altar to offer their prayers. Afterward, they would sit outside again for a long time to “breathe life” into their prayers. When missionaries came to the island, not always but sometimes their prayers felt different. They would stand up, utter a few sentences, call them “prayer,” say amen, and be done with it. The Hawaiians described these prayers as “without breath.”
Alice’s story speaks of how sometimes God’s people may not take the opportunity to “be still, and know” (Psalm 46:10). Make no mistake—God hears our prayers, whether they’re quick or slow. But often the pace of our lives mimics the pace of our hearts, and we need to allow ample time for God to speak not only into our lives but the lives of those around us. How many life-giving moments have we missed by rushing, saying amen, and being done with it?
We’re often impatient with everything from slow people to the slow lane in traffic. Yet, I believe God in His kindness says, “Be still. Breathe in and out. Go slow, and remember that I am God, your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” To do so is to know that God is God. To do so is to trust. To do so is to live.
When Joni Eareckson Tada returned home after suffering a swimming accident that left her a quadriplegic, her life was vastly different. Now doorways were too narrow for her wheelchair and sinks were too high. Someone had to feed her, until she decided to relearn how to feed herself. Lifting the special spoon to her mouth from her arm splint the first time, she felt humiliated as she smeared applesauce on her clothes. But she pressed on. As she says, “My secret was learning to lean on Jesus and say, ‘Oh God, help me with this!’” Today she manages a spoon very well.
Joni says her confinement made her look at another captive—the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in a Roman jail—and his letter to the Philippians. Joni strives for what Paul achieved: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Note that Paul had to learn to be at peace; he wasn’t naturally peaceful. How did he find contentment? Through trusting in Christ: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13).
We all face different challenges throughout our days, and we all can look to Jesus moment by moment for help, strength, and peace. He will help us to hold back from snapping at our loved ones; He will give us the courage to do the next hard thing. Look to Him and find contentment.
One evening years ago, my wife and I were making our way down a mountain trail, accompanied by two friends. The trail was narrow and wound around a slope with a steep drop on one side and an unclimbable bank on the other.
As we came around a bend, I saw a large bear moseying along, swinging his head from side to side, and quietly huffing. We were downwind and he hadn’t detected our presence, but he would soon.
Our friend began to rummage around in her jacket for a camera. “Oh, I must take a picture!” she said. I, being less comfortable with our odds, said, "No, we must get out of here." So we backed up quietly until we were out of sight—and ran.
That’s how we should feel about the dangerous passion to get rich. There’s nothing wrong with money; it's just a medium of exchange. But those who desire to get rich "fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction,” Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6:9). Wealth is only a goad to get more.
Instead, we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (v. 11). These traits grow in us as we pursue them and ask God to form them within us. This is how we secure the deep satisfaction we seek in God.
Needles, milk, mushrooms, elevators, births, bees, and bees in blenders—these are just a fraction of the many phobias attributed to Mr. Adrian Monk, detective and title character of the TV show Monk. But when he and long-time rival Harold Krenshaw find themselves locked in a car trunk, Monk has a breakthrough that allows him to cross at least one fear off the list—claustrophobia.
It’s while Monk and Harold are both panicking that the epiphany comes, abruptly interrupting Monk’s angst. “I think we’ve been looking at this the wrong way,” he tells Harold. “This trunk, these walls . . . they’re not closing in on us. . . . they’re protecting us, really. They’re keeping the bad stuff out. . . . germs, and snakes, and harmonicas.” Eyes widening, Harold sees what he means and whispers in wonder, “This trunk is our friend.”
In Psalm 63, it’s almost as if David has a similar epiphany. Despite being in a “dry and parched land,” when David remembers God’s power, glory, and love (vv. 2–3), it’s as if the desert transforms into a place of God’s care and protection. Like a baby bird hiding in the shelter of a mother’s wings, David finds that when he clings to God, even in that barren place he can feast “as with the richest of foods” (v. 5), finding nourishment and strength in a love that “is better than life” (v. 3).
Martha served as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school for over thirty years. Every year, she saved money to buy new coats, scarves, and gloves for students in need. After she lost her fight with leukemia, we held a celebration of life service. In lieu of flowers, people donated hundreds of brand-new winter coats to the students she loved and served for decades. Many people shared stories about the countless ways Martha encouraged others with kind words and thoughtful deeds. Her fellow teachers honored her memory with an annual coat drive for three years after her life ended on this side of eternity. Her legacy of kindness still inspires others to generously serve those in need.
In Acts 9, the apostle Luke shares a story about Dorcas, a woman who was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). After she got sick and died, the grieving community urged Peter to visit. All the widows showed Peter how Dorcas had lived to serve (v. 39). In a miraculous act of compassion, Peter brought Dorcas back to life. The news of Dorcas’ resurrection spread and “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). But it was Dorcas’ commitment to serving others in practical ways that touched the hearts in her community and revealed the power of loving generosity.
How might God use you to leave a legacy of kindness?
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. As the story is told, he complained that no one really paid attention to what was said. So, he decided to experiment at a reception. To everyone who passed down the line and shook his hand, he said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Do you ever wonder if people are really listening? Or worse, do you fear that God isn’t listening? We can tell if people are listening based on their responses or eye contact. But how do we know if God is listening? Should we rely on feelings? Or see if God answers our prayers?
After seventy years of exile in Babylon, God promised to bring His people back to Jerusalem and secure their future (Jeremiah 29:10–11). When they called upon Him, He heard them (v. 12). They knew that God heard their prayers because He promised to listen. And the same is true for us (1 John 5:14). We don’t need to rely on feelings or wait for a sign to know that God listens to us. He’s promised to listen, and He always keeps His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).