At the memorial service for my friend’s dad, someone said to her, “Until I met your father, I didn’t know a person could have fun while helping others.” Her dad contributed his part in helping to build the kingdom of God through serving people, laughing and loving, and meeting strangers who became friends. When he died, he left a legacy of love. In contrast, my friend’s aunt—her father’s older sister—viewed her possessions as her legacy, spending her latter years fretting about who would protect her heirlooms and rare books.
In His teaching and by His example, Jesus warned His followers to avoid hoarding possessions, to give to the poor, and to value what will not rust or decay. “For where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
We might think our things give meaning to our life. But when the latest gadget breaks or we misplace or lose something valuable, we begin to realize that it is our relationship with the Lord that satisfies and endures. It is our love and care for others that does not wither and fade away.
Let’s ask the Lord to help us see clearly what we value, to show us where our heart is, and to help us seek His kingdom above all (12:31).
“I’m hungry,” said my eight-year-old daughter. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t have anything for you. Let’s play tic-tac-toe.” We had been waiting over an hour for the bride to arrive at the church for what was supposed to be a noon wedding. As I wondered how much longer it would be, I hoped I could occupy my daughter until the wedding started.
As we waited, I felt like we were enacting a parable. Although the vicarage where we live is a stone’s throw from the church, I knew if I went to fetch some crackers, the bride could come at any moment and I would miss her entrance. As I employed many distraction techniques with my hungry daughter, I also thought about Jesus’s parable about the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13). Five came prepared with enough oil for their lamps to stay lit as they waited for the bridegroom, but five did not. Just as it was too late for me to dash back to the vicarage, so it was too late for the young women to go and buy more oil for their lamps.
Jesus told this parable to emphasize that we need to be prepared, for when He comes again we will give an account over the state of our hearts. Are we waiting and ready?
My nerves fluttering, I waited for the phone to ring and the radio interview to start. I wondered what questions the host would ask and how I would respond. “Lord, I’m much better on paper,” I prayed. “But I suppose it’s the same as Moses—I need to trust that you will give me the words to speak.”
Of course I’m not comparing myself with Moses, the leader of God’s people who helped them escape slavery in Egypt to life in the Promised Land. A reluctant leader, Moses needed the Lord to reassure him that the Israelites would listen to him. The Lord revealed several signs to him, such as turning his shepherd’s staff into a snake (Ex. 4:3), but Moses hesitated to accept the mantle of leadership, saying he was slow of speech (v.10). So God reminded him that He is the Lord and that He would help him speak. He would “be with his mouth” (as the original language translates, according to biblical scholars).
We know that since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God’s Spirit lives within His children and that however inadequate we may feel, He will enable us to carry out the assignments He gives to us. The Lord will “be with our mouths.”
Living in Britain, I don’t usually worry about sunburn. After all, the sun is often blocked by a thick cover of clouds. But recently I spent some time in Spain, and I quickly realized that with my pale skin, I could only be out in the sunshine for ten minutes before I needed to scurry back under the umbrella.
As I considered the scorching nature of the Mediterranean sun, I began to understand more deeply the meaning of the image of the Lord God as His people’s shade at their right hand. Residents of the Middle East knew unrelenting heat, and they needed to find shelter from the sun’s burning rays.
The psalmist uses this picture of the Lord as shade in Psalm 121, which can be understood as a conversation on a heart level—a dialogue with oneself about the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. When we use this psalm in prayer, we reassure ourselves that the Lord will never leave us, for He forms a protective covering over us. And just as we take shelter from the sun underneath umbrellas, so too can we find a safe place in the Lord.
We lift our eyes to the “Maker of heaven and earth” (vv. 1–2) because whether we are in times of sunshine or times of rain, we receive His gifts of protection, relief, and refreshment.
My friend’s words stung. Trying to sleep, I battled to stop mulling over her pointed comments about my strong opinions. As I lay there, I asked for God’s wisdom and peace. Several weeks later, still concerned about the matter, I prayed, “I hurt, Lord, but show me where I need to change. Show me where she’s right.”
My friend had acted as God’s sandpaper in my life. My feelings felt rubbed raw, but I sensed that how I responded would lead to the building of my character—or not. My choice was to submit to the smoothing process, confessing my pride and stubborn stance. I sensed that my bumps and imperfections didn’t glorify the Lord.
King Solomon knew that life in community could be difficult, a theme he addressed in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 27, we see his wisdom applied to relationships. He likens the sharp words between friends as iron sharpening iron: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (v. 17), shaving off the rough edges in each other’s behavior. The process may bring about wounds, such as the hurt I felt from my friend’s words (see v. 6), but ultimately the Lord can use these words to help and encourage us to make needed changes in our attitude and behavior.
How might the Lord be smoothing out your rough edges for His glory?
“We’re cutting your job.” A decade ago those words sent me reeling when the company I worked for eliminated my position. At the time, I felt shattered, partly because my identity was so intertwined with my role as editor. Recently I felt a similar sadness when I heard that my freelance job was ending. But this time I didn’t feel rocked at my foundation, because over the years I have seen God’s faithfulness and how He can turn my mourning to joy.
Though we live in a fallen world where we experience pain and disappointment, the Lord can move us from despair to rejoicing, as we see in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Jesus (Isa. 61:3). The Lord gives us hope when we feel hopeless; He helps us to forgive when we think we can’t; He teaches us that our identity is in Him and not in what we do. He gives us courage to face an unknown future. When we wear the rags of “ashes,” He gently gives us a coat of praise.
When we face loss, we shouldn’t run from the sadness, but neither do we want to become bitter or hardened. When we think about God’s faithfulness over the years, we know that He’s willing and able to turn our grief to dancing once again—to give us sufficient grace in this life and full joy in heaven.
Walking in my North London neighborhood, I can hear snatches of conversation in many languages—Polish, Japanese, Hindi, Croatian, and Italian, to name a few. This diversity feels like a taste of heaven, yet I can’t understand what they’re saying. As I step into the Russian café or the Polish market and hear the different accents and sounds, I sometimes reflect on how wonderful it must have been on the day of Pentecost when people of many nations could understand what the disciples were saying.
On that day, pilgrims gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the harvest. The Holy Spirit rested on the believers so that when they spoke, the hearers (who had come from all over the known world) could understand them in their own languages (Acts 2:5-6). What a miracle that these strangers from different lands could understand the praises to God in their own tongues! Many were spurred on to find out more about Jesus.
We may not speak or understand many languages, but we know that the Holy Spirit equips us to connect with people in other ways. Amazingly, we are God’s hands and feet—and mouth—to further His mission. Today, how might we—with the Spirit’s help—reach out to someone unlike us?
She called herself a worrier, but when her child was hurt in an accident, she learned how to escape that restricting label. As her child was recovering, she met each week with friends to talk and pray, asking God for help and healing. Through the months as she turned her fears and concerns into prayer, she realized that she was changing from being a worrier to a prayer warrior. She sensed that the Lord was giving her a new name. Her identity in Christ was deepening through the crucible of unwanted heartache.
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamum, the Lord promises to give to the faithful a white stone with a new name on it (Rev. 2:17). Biblical commentators have debated over the meaning, but most agree that this white stone points to our freedom in Christ. In biblical times, juries in a court of law used a white stone for a not-guilty verdict and a black stone for guilty. A white stone also gained the bearer entrance into such events as banquets; likewise, those who receive God’s white stone are welcomed to the heavenly feast. Jesus’ death brings us freedom and new life—and a new name.
What new name do you think God might give to you?
“I’m not surprised you lead retreats,” said an acquaintance in my exercise class. “You have a good aura.” I was jolted but pleased by her comment, because I realized that what she saw as an “aura” in me, I understood to be the peace of Christ. As we follow Jesus, He gives us the peace that transcends understanding (Phil. 4:7) and radiates from within—though we may not even be aware of it.
Jesus promised His followers this peace when, after their last supper together, He prepared them for His death and resurrection. He told them that though they would have trouble in the world, the Father would send them the Spirit of truth to live with them and be in them (John 14:17). The Spirit would teach them, bringing to mind His truths; the Spirit would comfort them, bestowing on them His peace. Though soon they would face trials—including fierce opposition from the religious leaders and seeing Jesus executed—He told them not to be afraid. The Holy Spirit’s presence would never leave them.
Although as God’s children we experience hardship, we too have His Spirit living within and flowing out of us. God’s peace can be His witness to everyone we meet—whether at a local market, at school or work, or in the gym. Amy Boucher Pye