Our Daily Bread Podcast | Our Daily Bread
Warren moved to a small town to pastor a church. After his ministry had some initial success, one of the locals took a dislike to him. Concocting a story accusing Warren of horrendous acts, the man took the story to the local newspaper and even printed his accusations on pamphlets to distribute to local residents by mail. Warren and his wife started praying hard. If the lie was believed, their lives would be upended.
King David once experienced something similar. He faced an attack of slander by an enemy. “All day long they twist my words,” he said, “all their schemes are for my ruin” (Psalm 56:5). This sustained assault left him fearful and tearful (v. 8). But in the midst of the battle, he prayed this powerful prayer: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” (vv. 3–4).
David’s prayer can be a model for us today. When I am afraid—in times of fear or accusation, we turn to God. I put my trust in you—we place our battle in God’s powerful hands. What can mere mortals do to me?—facing the situation with Him, we remember how limited the powers against us really are.
The newspaper ignored the story about Warren. For some reason, the pamphlets were never distributed. What battle are you fearing today? Talk to God. He is willing to fight it with you.
“Mr. Singerman, why are you crying?” asked twelve-year-old Albert as he watched the master craftsman construct a wooden box.
“I cry,” said Isaac, “because my father cried, and because my grandfather cried.” The woodworker’s answer to his young apprentice provides a tender moment in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. “Tears,” explained Mr. Singerman, “come with the making of a coffin.”
“Some men don’t cry because they fear it is a sign of weakness,” he said. “I was taught that a man is a man because he can cry.”
Emotion must have welled up in the eyes of Jesus as he compared His concern for Jerusalem to the care of a mother hen for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). His disciples were often confused by what they saw in His eyes or heard in his stories. His idea of what it meant to be strong was different. It happened again as they walked with Him from the temple. Calling His attention to the massive stone walls and magnificent décor of their place of worship (24:1), the disciples noted the strength of human accomplishment. Jesus saw a temple that would be leveled in 70
Jesus shows us that healthy people know when to cry and why. He cried because His Father cares and His Spirit groans for children who couldn’t yet see what breaks His heart.
“It can be an affliction more harrowing than homelessness, hunger or disease,” wrote Maggie Fergusson in The Economist’s 1843 magazine. Her subject? Loneliness. Fergusson chronicled the increasing rates of loneliness, irrespective of one’s social or economic status, using heart-wrenching examples of what it feels like to be lonely.
The hurt of feeling alone is not new to our day. Indeed, the pain of isolation echoes off the pages of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Often attributed to King Solomon, the book captures the sorrow of those who seem to lack any meaningful relationships (4:7–8). The speaker lamented that it is possible to acquire significant wealth, and yet experience no value from it, because there is no one to share it with.
But the speaker also recognized the beauty of companionship, writing that friends help you accomplish more than you could achieve on your own (v. 9); companions help in times of need (v. 10); partners bring comfort (v. 11); and friends can provide protection in difficult situations (v. 12).
Loneliness is a significant struggle, because God created us to offer, and receive, the benefits of friendship and community. If you’re feeling alone, pray that God would help you form meaningful connections with others. In the meantime, find encouragement in the reality that the believer is never truly alone, because Christ’s Spirit is always with us (Matthew 28:20).
As my husband and I prepared for a cross-country move, I wanted to ensure that we kept in touch with our grown sons. I found a unique gift, friendship lamps connected by wireless internet, which can be turned on remotely. When I gave the lamps to my sons, I explained that their lamps will turn on when I touch my lamp—to provide a shining reminder of my love and ongoing prayers. No matter how great the distance between us, a tap on their lamps would trigger a light in our home too. Though we knew nothing could replace our more personal moments of connection, we could be encouraged by knowing we’re loved and prayed for every time we turned on those lights.
All God’s children have the privilege of being light-sharers powered by the Holy Spirit. We’re designed to live as radiant beacons of the Lord’s everlasting hope and unconditional love. When we’re sharing the gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, we become brilliant spotlights and living testimonies. Every good deed, kind smile, gentle word of encouragement, and heartfelt prayer produces a beaming reminder of God’s faithfulness and His unconditional and life-transforming love (Matthew 5:14–16).
Wherever God leads us, and however we serve Him, we can be used by Him to help others shine His light. As God, by His Spirit, provides the true illumination, we can reflect the light and love of His presence.
As a boy, theologian Bruce Ware was frustrated that 1 Peter 2:21–23 calls us to be like Jesus. Ware wrote of his youthful exasperation in his book The Man Christ Jesus. “Not fair, I determined. Especially when the passage says to follow in the steps of one ‘who did no sin.’ This was totally outlandish . . . . I just couldn’t see how God could really mean for us to take it seriously.”
I understand why Ware would find such a biblical challenge so daunting! An old chorus says, “To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus. My desire, to be like Him.” But as Ware rightly noted, we are not capable of doing that. Left to ourselves, we could never become like Jesus.
However, we are not left to ourselves. The Holy Spirit has been given to the child of God, in part so that Christ can be formed in us (Galatians 4:9). So it should come as no surprise that in Paul’s great chapter on the Spirit we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God will see His work completed in us. And He does it through the Spirit of Christ living in us.
As we allow the Spirit to work in us, we truly become more like Jesus. How comforting to know that is God’s great desire for us!
In our moments of greatest failure, it can be easy to believe it’s too late for us, that we’ve lost our chance at a life of purpose and worth. That’s how Elias, a former inmate at a maximum-security prison in New York, described feeling as a prisoner. “I had broken . . . promises, the promise of my own future, the promise of what I could be.”
It was Bard College’s “Prison Initiative” college degree program that began to transform Elias’ life. While in the program, Elias participated in a debate team, which in 2015 debated a team from Harvard—and won. For Elias, being “part of the team . . . [was] a way of proving that these promises weren’t completely lost.”
A similar transformation happens in our hearts when we begin to understand that the good news of God’s love in Jesus is good news for us too. It’s not too late, we begin to realize with wonder. God still has a future for me.
And it’s a future that can neither be earned nor forfeited, dependent only on God’s extravagant grace and power (2 Peter 1:3). A future where we’re set free from the despair in the world and in our hearts into one filled with His “glory and goodness” (v. 3). A future secure in Christ’s unimaginable promises (v. 4)—of a future transformed into the “freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
During the American Civil War, the penalty for desertion was execution. But the Union armies rarely executed deserters because their commander-in-chief Abraham Lincoln pardoned nearly all of them. This infuriated Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, who believed that Lincoln’s leniency only enticed would-be deserters. But Lincoln empathized with soldiers who had lost their nerve and who had given in to their fear in the heat of battle. And his empathy endeared him to his soldiers. They loved their “Father Abraham,” and their affection led the soldiers to want to serve Lincoln all the more.
When Paul calls Timothy to join him in “suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), he calls him to a tough job description. A soldier is to be completely dedicated, hard-working, and selfless. He’s to serve his commanding officer, Jesus, whole-heartedly. But in reality, we sometimes fail to be His good soldiers. We don’t always serve Him faithfully. And so Paul’s opening phrase is important: “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Christ, our commanding officer, is full of grace. He empathizes with our weaknesses and forgives our failures (Hebrews 4:15). And just as the Union soldiers were encouraged by Lincoln’s compassion, so believers are strengthened by the grace of Jesus. We want to serve Him all the more because we know He loves us.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis recommended asking ourselves some questions to find out if we’re proud: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, . . . or patronize me, or show off?” Lewis saw pride as a vice of the “utmost evil” and the chief cause of misery in homes and nations. He called it a “spiritual cancer” that eats up the very possibility of love, contentment, and even common sense.
Pride has been a problem throughout the ages. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the leader of Tyre, a powerful coastal city, against his pride. He said the king’s pride would result in his downfall: “Because you think you are . . . as wise as a god, I am going to bring foreigners against you” (Ezekiel 28:6–7). Then he would know he wasn’t a god, but a mortal (v. 9).
In contrast to pride is humility, which Lewis named as a virtue we receive through knowing God. Lewis said that as we get in touch with God, we become “delightedly humble,” feeling relieved to be rid of the silly nonsense about our own dignity that previously made us restless and unhappy.
The more we worship God, the more we will know Him and the more we can humble ourselves before Him. May we be those who love and serve with joy and humility.
Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer, was devastated when she visited her mother and saw her decline from dementia. Her mom no longer recognized her and barely spoke. After several monthly visits, Nancy had an idea. She started singing Christmas carols. Her mother’s eyes lit up at the musical sounds, and she began singing too—for twenty minutes! Then Nancy’s mom laughed, joking they were “The Gustafson Family Singers!” The dramatic turnaround suggested the power of music, as some therapists conclude, to evoke lost memories. Singing “old favorites” has also been shown to boost mood, reduce falls, lessen visits to the emergency room, and decrease the need for sedative drugs.
More research is underway on a music-memory link. Yet as the Bible reveals, the joy that comes from singing is a gift from God—and it’s real. “How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1).
Throughout the Scriptures, in fact, God’s people are urged to lift their voices in songs of praise to Him. “Sing to the
In the late 17th century, William of Orange intentionally flooded much of his nation’s land. The Dutch monarch resorted to such a drastic measure in an attempt to drive out the invading Spaniards. It didn’t work, and a vast swath of prime farmland was lost to the sea. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” they say.
In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem turned to desperate measures when the Assyrian army threatened them. Creating a water storage system to endure the siege, the people also tore down houses to shore up the city walls. Such tactics may have been prudent, but they neglected the most important step. “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool,” God said, “but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11).
We aren’t likely to encounter a literal army outside our homes today. “The batterings always come in commonplace ways and through commonplace people,” said Oswald Chambers. Yet, such “batterings” are genuine threats. Thankfully, they also bring with them God’s invitation to turn to Him first for what we need.
When life’s irritations and interruptions come, will we see them as opportunities to turn to God? Or will we seek our own desperate solutions?
During college, I spent a good chunk of a summer in Venezuela. The food was astounding, the people delightful, the weather and hospitality beautiful. Within the first day or two, however, I recognized that my views on time management weren’t shared by my new friends. If we planned to have lunch at noon, this meant anywhere between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. The same for meetings or travel: timeframes were approximations without rigid punctuality. I learned that my idea of “being on time” was far more culturally formed than I’d realized.
All of us are shaped by the cultural values that surround us, usually without us ever noticing. Paul calls this cultural force “the world” (Romans 12:2). Here, “world” doesn’t mean the physical universe, but rather refers to the ways of thinking pervading our existence. The world refers to the unquestioned assumptions and guiding ideals handed to us simply because we live in a particular place and time.
Paul warns us to be vigilant to not “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). Instead, we must be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2). Rather than passively taking on whatever ways of thinking and believing that engulf us, we’re called to actively pursue God’s way of thinking and to learn how to understand His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (v. 2). May we learn to follow God rather than every other voice.
During an outing, we met a woman who had known my husband’s family since he was a child. She looked from Alan to our son, Xavier. “He’s the spitting image of his daddy,” she said. “Those eyes. That smile. Yep. Looks just like him.” As the woman delighted in acknowledging such a strong resemblance between father and son, she even noted similarities in their personalities. Still, though they are alike in many ways, my son doesn’t reflect his father perfectly.
There is only one Son—Jesus—who reflects His Father completely. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). In Him and through Him and for Him all things were created (v. 16). “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17).
We can spend time in prayer and Bible study, discovering the Father’s character by looking at Jesus—God in the flesh. He invites us to witness His love in action by examining how He interacts with others in Scripture and in our day-to-day living. After surrendering our lives to Christ and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can grow in knowing and trusting our loving Father. He transforms us to reflect His character, so we can live for Him.
What a joy it would be if others could say we look like just like Jesus!
When the hut of a settler in a mountainous region of Alaska caught fire, the settler was left without adequate shelter and with few provisions in the coldest state in the United States—in the middle of a frigid winter. Three weeks later, an aircraft flew over and spied the large SOS the man had stamped out in the snow and darkened with soot, and he was finally rescued.
The psalmist David was certainly in dire straits. He was being pursued by jealous King Saul who sought to kill him. And so he fled to the city of Gath, where he pretended to be insane in order to preserve his life (see 1 Samuel 20–21). Out of those events emerged Psalm 34, where David cried out in prayer to God and found peace (vv. 4, 6). God heard his pleas and delivered him.
Are you in a desperate situation and crying out for help? Be assured that God still hears and responds to our desperate prayers today. As with David, He’s attentive to our distress calls and takes away our fears (v. 4)—and sometimes even saves us “out of [our] troubles” (v. 6).
Scripture invites us to “cast [our] cares on the
Farming is difficult in areas that lack freshwater. To help solve this problem, The Seawater Greenhouse Company has created something new—“cooling houses” in Somaliland, Africa, and other countries with similar climates. Cooling houses use solar pumps to drizzle saltwater over walls made of corrugated cardboard. As the water moves down each panel, it leaves its salt behind. Much of the remaining fresh water evaporates inside the structure, which becomes a humid place where fruit and vegetable crops can flourish.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised to do a “new thing” as He provided “streams in the wasteland” for ancient Israel (Isaiah 43:19). This new thing contrasted with the old thing He had done to rescue His people from the Egyptian army. Remember the Red Sea account? God wanted His people to recall the past but not let it overshadow His current involvement in their lives (v. 18). He said, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness” (v. 19).
While looking to the past can bolster our faith in God’s provision, living in the past can blind us to all the fresh work of God’s Spirit today. We can ask God to show us how He’s currently moving—helping, remaking, and sustaining His people. May this awareness prompt us to partner with Him to meet the needs of others, both near and far.
My friend Sharon passed away one year prior to the death of my friend Dave’s teenage daughter Melissa. They both had been tragically killed in car accidents. One night both Sharon and Melissa were in my dream. They giggled and talked as they hung streamers in a large banquet hall and ignored me when I stepped into the room. A long table with white tablecloths had been set with golden plates and goblets. I asked if I could help decorate, but they didn’t seem to hear me and kept working.
But then Sharon said, “This party is Melissa’s wedding reception.”
“Who’s the groom?” I asked.
Neither responded but smiled and looked at each other knowingly. Finally, it dawned on me—it’s Jesus!
“Jesus is the groom,” I whispered as I woke up.
My dream brings to mind the joyful celebration believers in Jesus will share together when Christ returns. It’s portrayed in Revelation as a lavish feast and is called “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9). John the Baptist, who prepared people for the first coming of Jesus, had called Him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He also referred to Jesus as “the bridegroom” and himself as the “friend” (like the best man) who waited for Him (3:29).
On that banquet day and for all eternity we will enjoy unbroken fellowship with Jesus, our groom, and with Sharon and Melissa and all of God’s people.
A group of workers were cutting ice out of a frozen lake and storing it in an icehouse when one of them realized he’d lost his watch in the windowless building. He and his friends searched for it in vain.
After they gave up, a young boy who’d seen them exit went into the building. Soon, he emerged with the watch. Asked how he’d found it, he replied: “I just sat down and kept quiet, and soon I could hear it ticking.”
The Bible talks much about the value of being still. And no wonder, for God sometimes speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12). In the busyness of life, it can be hard to hear Him. But if we stop rushing about and spend some quiet time with Him and the Scripture, we may hear His gentle voice in our thoughts.
Psalm 37:1–7 assures us that we can trust God to rescue us from the “wicked schemes” of evil people, give us refuge, and help us stay faithful. But how can we do this when turmoil is all around us?
Verse 7 suggests: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” We could start by learning to keep silent for a few minutes after a prayer. Or by quietly reading the Bible and letting the words soak into our hearts. And then, perhaps, we will hear His wisdom speaking to us, quiet and steady as a ticking clock.
In the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a college professor befriended a stray Akita puppy named Hachi. The dog expressed his loyalty by waiting at the train station each day for the professor to return from work. One day, the professor suffered a fatal stroke. Hachi waited hours at the train station, and for the next ten years he returned each day—awaiting His loving master.
Luke tells the story of a man named Simeon who patiently waited for the coming of his Master (Luke 2:25). The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah (v. 26). As a result, Simeon kept waiting for the One that would provide “salvation” for God’s people (v. 30). When Mary and Joseph entered the temple with Jesus, the Holy Spirit whispered to Simeon, “Yes! This is the One!” The wait was finally over! Simeon held Christ in his arms—the hope, salvation, and comfort for all people (vv. 28–32).
If we find ourselves in a season of waiting, may we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah with fresh ears: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31). As we await Jesus’ return, He provides the hope and strength we need for each new day.
The cockeyed squid lives in the ocean’s “twilight zone” where sunlight barely filters through the increasingly deep waters. The squid’s nickname is a reference to its two extremely different eyes: the left eye develops over time to become considerably larger than the right—almost twice as big. Scientists studying the mollusk have deduced that the squid uses its right eye, the smaller one, to look down into the darker depths. The larger, left eye, gazes upward, toward the sunlight.
The squid is an unlikely depiction of what it means to live in our present world and also in the future certainty we await as people who “have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he insists we ought to “set [our] minds on things above” because our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (vv. 2–3).
As earth-dwellers awaiting our lives in heaven, we keep an eye trained on what’s happening around us in our present reality. But just as the squid’s left eye develops over time into one that’s larger and more sensitive to what’s happening overhead, we, too, can grow in our awareness of the ways God’s at work in the spiritual realm. We may not have yet fully grasped what it means to be alive in Christ, but as we look “up,” our eyes will begin to see it more and more.
The weather forecast said bomb cyclone. That’s what happens when a winter storm rapidly intensifies as the atmospheric pressure drops. By the time night fell the blizzard conditions made the highway to the Denver airport almost impossible to see. Almost. But when it’s your daughter who’s flying home to visit, you do what you have to do. You pack extra clothes and water (just in case you get stranded on the highway), drive very slowly, pray without ceasing, and last but not least trust your headlights. And sometimes you can achieve the almost impossible.
Jesus foretold of a storm on the horizon, one that would involve His death (John 12:32–33), and one that would challenge His followers to stay faithful and serve (v. 26). It was going to get dark and be almost impossible to see. Almost. So what did Jesus tell them to do? Believe, or trust, the light (v. 36). That was the only way they could keep going forward and stay faithful.
Jesus would only be with them a little while longer. But believers have His Spirit as our constant guide to light the way. We too will face dark times when it’s almost impossible to see the way ahead. Almost. But by believing, or trusting in the Light, we can press on.
At the phone store, the young pastor steeled himself for bad news. His smart phone, accidentally dropped during our Bible class, was a total loss, right? Actually, no. The store clerk recovered all of the pastor’s data, including his Bible videos and photos. She also recovered “every photo I’d ever deleted,” he said. The store also “replaced my broken phone with a brand new phone.” As he said, “I recovered all I had lost and more.”
David once led his own recovery mission after an attack by the vicious Amalekites. Spurned by Philistine rulers, David and his army discovered the Amalekites had raided and burned down their town of Ziklag—taking captive “the women and everyone else in it,” including all their wives and children (1 Samuel 30:2). “So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (v. 4). The soldiers were so bitter with their leader David that they talked of stoning him (v. 6).
But David “found strength in the
At local high school sporting events, Ted was the largest and loudest cheerleader in the stands. Before a degenerative condition took its toll on him, he stood six feet six inches tall and weighed 290 pounds. Ted’s crowd-stirring chants of “Blue!” (blue was the school color) and candy-tossing at school events were legendary, earning him the name “Big Blue.”
But Ted’s reputation in his community wasn’t just for cheerleading. Neither was it for the alcohol addiction he experienced as a younger man. No, he will be remembered for his love for God and family, for his generosity and kindness. At a four-hour “home-going service” that celebrated his life, person after person came forward to testify about the vibrant Christ-like ways of a man who’d been rescued from darkness by the power of Jesus through the gospel.
In Ephesians 5:8, Paul reminded believers that they “were once darkness” but quickly noted, “but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Such is the call for every believer in Jesus. Children of light, like Ted, have much to offer those engulfed in this world’s darkness. Fruitless deeds of darkness (see vv. 3–4) are to be avoided (v. 11). Those in our communities and other places need the brilliant, distinctive witness of those upon whom Jesus has shined (v. 14). How distinctive? As different as light is from darkness.
Harriet Tubman was one of the great American heroes of the nineteenth century. Showing remarkable courage, she guided more than three hundred fellow slaves to freedom after she first escaped slavery by crossing into free territory in the United States north. Not content to simply enjoy her own freedom, she ventured back into slave states nineteen times to lead friends, family, and strangers to freedom, sometimes guiding people on foot all the way to Canada.
What drove Miss Tubman to such brave action? A woman of deep faith, she at one time said this: “I always told God, I’m going to hold steady on you, and you’ve got to see me through.” Her dependence on God’s guidance as she led people out of slavery was a hallmark of her success.
What does it mean to “hold steady” to God? A verse in the prophecy of Isaiah might help us see that in reality it’s He who holds us as we grab His hand. Isaiah quotes God, who said, “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (41:13).
Harriet held tightly to God, and He saw her through. What challenges are you facing? Hold steady to God as He “takes hold” of your hand and your life. “Do not fear.” He will help you.
On his twelfth Christmas, the boy eagerly awaited the opening of the gifts under the tree. He was yearning for a new bike, but his hopes were dashed—the last present he received was a dictionary. On the first page, he read: “To Charles from Mother and Daddy, 1958. With love and high hopes for your best work in school.”
In the next decade, Chuck did do well in school. He graduated from college and later, aviation training, and became a pilot working overseas, fulfilling his passion to help people in need and to share Jesus with them. Now some sixty years later, he shared the well-worn dictionary with his grandchildren. It had become for him a symbol of his parents’ loving investment in his future, and Chuck still treasures it. But he’s even more grateful for the daily investment his parents made in building his faith by teaching him about God and about His Word.
Deuteronomy 11 talks about the importance of taking every opportunity to share the words of Scripture with children: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 19).
For Chuck, the eternal values planted when he was a boy bloomed into a lifetime of service for his Savior. With God’s enablement, who knows how much our investment in someone’s spiritual growth will yield?
A popular restaurant in Bangkok serves soup from a broth that has been cooking for forty-five years and is replenished a bit each day. The practice, called “perpetual stew,” dates back to medieval times. Just as some “leftovers” taste better a few days later, the extended cooking time blends and creates unique flavors. The restaurant has won multiple awards for the most delicious broth in Thailand.
Good things often take time, but our human nature struggles with patience. The question “How long?” occurs throughout the Bible. One poignant example is from the prophet Habakkuk, who begins his book by asking “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk (whose name means “grappler”) prophesied God’s judgment on his country (Judah) through the invasion of the ruthless Babylonian Empire, and he wrestled with how God could allow corrupt people to prosper as they exploited others. But God promised hope and restoration in His own time: “For the revelation [of God’s help] awaits an appointed time . . . . Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:3).
The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. By human reckoning that’s a long time, but God is always faithful and true to His Word.
Some of God’s best blessings may be long in coming. Though they linger, keep looking to Him! He prepares every blessing with perfect wisdom and care— and He is always worth waiting for.
As I watched a bumblebee land lightly on the Russian sage, I marveled at its lush branches. The bush exploded with color, its brilliant blue blossoms attracting eyes and bees alike.
Yet only last fall, I’d wondered if it would ever blossom again. When my wife’s parents trimmed the periwinkle plant down to a stub, I’d assumed they’d decided to get rid of it. But now I was witnessing the radiant result of pruning that had seemed brutal to me.
The surprising beauty that results from harsh cuts may be one of the reasons Jesus chose pruning imagery to describe God’s work among believers in John 15, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . . every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (vv. 1–2).
Jesus’s words remind us that in the good times and bad, God is always working in us toward spiritual renewal and fruitfulness (v. 5). During “pruning” seasons of suffering or emotional barrenness, we may wonder if we’ll ever thrive again. But Jesus encourages us to continue to stick close to Him: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).
And as we continually draw spiritual nourishment from Christ, the resulting beauty and fruitfulness in our lives (v. 8) will witness to the world of God’s goodness.
As many as 34,000 homes in one US state are at risk of collapsing due to faulty foundations. Without realizing it, a concrete company pulled stone from a quarry laced with a mineral that, over time, causes concrete to crack and disintegrate. The foundations of nearly 600 homes have already crumbled, and that number will likely skyrocket over time.
Jesus used the image of building a home atop a faulty foundation to explain the far riskier danger of building our lives on unsteady ground. He explained how some of us construct our life on sturdy rock, ensuring that we hold solid when fierce storms assault us. Others of us, however, erect our lives on sand; and when the tempests rage, our lives tumble “with a great crash” (Matthew 7:27). The one distinction between building on an unshakable foundation or a crumbling one is whether or not we “put [Christ’s words] into practice (v. 26). The question isn’t whether or not we hear His words, but whether we practice them as He enables us.
There’s much wisdom offered to us in this world—and lots of advice and help—and much of it is good and beneficial. If we base our life on any foundation other than humble obedience to God’s truth, however, we invite trouble. In His strength, doing what God says is the only way to have a house, a life, built on rock.
In 1994, when South Africa made the transition from government by apartheid (imposed racial segregation) to a democracy, it faced the difficult question of how to address the crimes committed under apartheid. The country’s leaders couldn’t ignore the past, but merely imposing harsh punishments on the guilty risked deepening the country’s wounds. As Desmond Tutu, the first black Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, explained in his book No Future Without Forgiveness, “We could very well have had justice, retributive justice, and had a South Africa lying in ashes.”
Through establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the new democracy chose the difficult path of pursuing truth, justice, and mercy. Those guilty of crimes were offered a path to restoration—if they were willing to confess their crimes and seek to make restitution. Only by courageously facing the truth could the country begin to find healing.
In a way, South Africa’s dilemma mirrors the struggle we all face. We’re called to pursue both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8), but mercy is often misunderstood to be a lack of accountability, while pursuing justice can become distorted into pursuing revenge.
Our only path forward is a love that not only hates what’s evil (Romans 12:9) but also longs for the transformation and good of our “neighbor” (13:10). Through the power of Christ’s Spirit, we can learn what it means to have a future of overcoming evil with good (12:21).
Andrew lives in a country that is closed to the gospel. When I asked him how he keeps his faith a secret, he said he doesn’t. He boldly wears a button that advertises his church, and whenever he’s arrested he tells the police that “they need Jesus too.” Andrew has courage because he knows who’s on his side.
Elijah refused to be intimidated, even when the king of Israel sent fifty soldiers to arrest him (2 Kings 1:9). The prophet knew God was with him, and he called down fire that consumed the platoon. The king sent fifty more, and Elijah did it again (v. 12). The king sent fifty more, but the third platoon had heard about the others. The captain begged Elijah to spare his soldiers’ lives. They were more afraid of him than he’d ever been of them, so the angel of the Lord told Elijah it was safe to go with them (vv. 13–15).
Jesus doesn’t want us to call down fire on our enemies. When the disciples asked if they could go full Elijah (call down fire) on a Samaritan village, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:51–55). We’re living in a different time. But Jesus does want us to have the boldness of Elijah—to be ready to tell everyone about the Savior who died for them. It may seem like one person taking on fifty, but it’s actually One on fifty. Jesus provides what we need to courageously love and reach out to others.
There’s a home improvement store near me that has a big green button in one of its departments. If no assistant is present, you push the button, which starts a timer. If you’re not served within a minute, you get a discount on your purchase.
We like being the customer in this scenario who enjoys the speedy service. But the demand for fast service often takes a toll when we’re the one expected to deliver it. So many of us today feel rushed doing our jobs, working long hours, checking email multiple times a day, and feeling pressured to meet tighter and tighter deadlines. The customer service tactics of the home improvement store have seeped into all our lives, creating a culture of rush.
When God told the Israelites to keep a Sabbath, He added an important reason: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 5:15). There they’d been forced to work ceaselessly under Pharaoh’s excessive time constraints (Exodus 5:6–9). Now freed, they were to give themselves a whole day each week to ensure they and those who served them could rest (Deuteronomy 5:14). Under God’s rule, there were to be no flush-faced, out-of-breath people.
How often do you work to the point of exhaustion or get impatient with people who keep you waiting? Let’s give ourselves and each other a break. A culture of rush is Pharaoh’s doing, not God’s.
Among the many exhibits and artifacts exploring the harsh reality of slavery and its aftermath in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, I was grateful to discover the Contemplative Court. This tranquil room features translucent walls of bronze glass, and water appears to rain down from the ceiling into a pool.
As I sat in that peaceful space, a quote on the wall from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught my eye: “We are determined . . . to work and fight until justice rains down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” These powerful words are drawn from the Old Testament book of Amos.
Amos was a prophet living among a people who were involved in religious activities, such as celebrating festivals and offering sacrifices, but whose hearts were far from God (Amos 5:21–23). God rejected their activities because they’d turned away from His commands, including those regarding justice toward the needy and oppressed.
Instead of religious ceremonies devoid of love for God and others, Amos wrote that God longed for His people to demonstrate genuine concern for the welfare of all people, a generous way of living that would be a mighty river bringing life wherever it flowed.
Jesus taught the same truth that loving God is connected with loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:37–39). As we seek to love God, may it come from hearts that also treasure justice.