A young boy showered my husband, Carl, and me with bubbles as he came running by us on the Atlantic City boardwalk. It was a light and fun moment on a difficult day. We had come to the city to visit our brother-in-law in the hospital and to help Carl’s sister who was struggling and having trouble getting to her doctors’ appointments. So as we took a break and walked along the seaside boardwalk we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the needs of our family.
Then came the bubbles. Just bubbles blown at us whimsically by a little boy in the ocean breeze—except for what I knew. I love bubbles and keep a bottle in my office to use whenever I need the smile of a bubble break. Those bubbles and the vast Atlantic Ocean reminded me of what I can count on: God is always close. He is powerful. He always cares. And He can use even the smallest experiences, and briefest moments, to help us remember that His presence is like an ocean of grace in the middle of our heavy moments.
Maybe one day our troubles will seem like bubbles—momentary in light of eternity for “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
In the summer of 2015, Hunter (aged 15) carried his brother Braden (8) for a fifty-seven-mile walk to raise awareness of the needs of people with cerebral palsy. Braden weighs sixty pounds, so Hunter needed frequent rest stops where others helped him stretch his muscles, and he wore special harnesses to disperse Braden’s weight. Hunter says that while the harnesses helped with the physical discomfort, what helped him most were the people along the way. “If it weren’t for everyone cheering and walking with us, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. . . . My legs were sore but my friends picked me up and I made it through . . . .” His mom named the arduous trek “The Cerebral Palsy Swagger.”
The apostle Paul, who we think of as strong and courageous, also needed to be “picked up.” In Romans 16 he lists a number of people who did just that for him. They served alongside him, encouraged him, met his needs, and prayed for him. He mentions Phoebe; Priscilla and Aquila who were co-workers; Rufus’s mother who had been like a mother to him as well; Gaius who showed him hospitality; and many more.
We all need friends who pick us up, and we all know of others who need our encouragement. As Jesus helps and carries us, let us help one another.
Her thirty classmates and their parents watched as Mi’Asya nervously walked to the podium to speak at her fifth grade graduation ceremony. When the principal adjusted the microphone to Mi’Asya’s height, she turned her back to the microphone and the audience. The crowd whispered words of encouragement: “Come on, honey, you can do it.” But she didn’t budge. Then a classmate walked to the front and stood by her side. With the principal on one side of Mi’Asya and her friend on the other, the three read her speech together. What a beautiful example of support!
Moses needed help and support in the middle of a battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17:10–16). “As long as Moses held up his hands [with the staff of God in his hands], the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (v. 11). When Aaron and Hur saw what was happening, they stood beside Moses, “one on one side, one on the other,” and supported his arms when he grew tired. With their support, victory came by sunset.
We all need the support of one another. As brothers and sisters in the family of God, we have so many opportunities to encourage one another on our shared journey of faith. And God is right here in our midst giving us His grace to do that.
When Rebecca stood on stage to speak at a conference, her first sentence into the microphone echoed around the room. It was a bit unsettling for her to hear her own words come back at her, and she had to adjust to the faulty sound system and try to ignore the echo of every word she spoke.
Imagine what it would be like to hear everything we say repeated! It wouldn’t be so bad to hear ourselves repeat "I love you" or "I was wrong" or “Thank You, Lord” or "I'm praying for you." But not all of our words are beautiful or gentle or kind. What about those angry outbursts or demeaning comments that no one wants to hear once, let alone twice—those words that we would really rather take back?
Like the psalmist David, we long to have the Lord’s control over our words. He prayed, "Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips” (Ps. 141:3 nlt). And thankfully, the Lord wants to do that. He can help us control what we say. He can guard our lips.
As we learn to adjust to our own sound system by paying careful attention to what we say and praying about the words we speak, the Lord will patiently teach us and even empower us to have self-control. And best of all, He forgives us when we fail and is pleased with our desire for His help.
“I don’t think God is good,” my friend told me. She had been praying for years about some difficult issues, but nothing had improved. Her anger and bitterness over God’s silence grew. Knowing her well, I sensed that deep down she believed God is good, but the continual pain in her heart and God’s seeming lack of interest caused her to doubt. It was easier for her to get angry than to bear the sadness.
Doubting God’s goodness is as old as Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). The serpent put that thought in Eve’s mind when he suggested that God was withholding the fruit from her because “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). In pride, Adam and Eve thought they, rather than God, should determine what was good for them.
Years after losing a daughter in death, James Bryan Smith found he was able to affirm God’s goodness. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith wrote, "God's goodness is not something I get to decide upon. I am a human being with limited understanding." Smith’s amazing comment isn’t naïve; it arises out of years of processing his grief and seeking God’s heart.
In times of discouragement, let’s listen well to each other and help each other see the truth that God is good.
A woman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, fell asleep on the couch after her husband had gone to bed. An intruder sneaked in through the sliding door, which the couple had forgotten to lock, and crept through the house. He entered the bedroom where the husband was sleeping and picked up the television set. The sleeping man woke up, saw a figure standing there, and whispered, "Honey, come to bed." The burglar panicked, put down the TV, grabbed a stack of money from the dresser, and ran out.
The thief was in for a big surprise! The money turned out to be a stack of Christian pamphlets with a likeness of a $20 bill on one side and an explanation of the love and forgiveness God offers to people on the other side. Instead of the cash he expected, the intruder got the story of God’s love for him.
I wonder what Saul expected when he realized it was Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus, since he had been persecuting and even killing Jesus’ followers? (Acts 9:1-9). Saul, later called Paul, must have been surprised by God’s grace toward him, which he called “a gift”: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (Eph. 3:7).
Have you been surprised by God’s gift of grace in your life as He shows you His love and forgiveness?
Joan was struggling with some difficult issues with her children when she sat down for a worship service. Exhausted, she wanted to "resign" from motherhood. Then the speaker began to share encouragement for those who feel like quitting. These four thoughts that Joan heard that morning helped her to keep going:
Look up and pray. Asaph prayed all night long and even expressed feelings that God had forgotten and rejected him (Ps. 77:9-10). We can tell God everything and be honest about our feelings. We can ask Him anything. His answer may not come right away or in the form we want or expect, but He won't criticize us for asking.
Look back and remember what God has done in the past for you and others. Asaph didn't talk to God only about the pain; he also recalled God's power and mighty works for him and God’s people. He wrote, "I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago" (v. 11).
Look forward. Think about the good that might come out of the situation. What might you learn? What might God want to do? What do you know He will do because His ways are perfect? (v.13).
Look again. This time look at your circumstances with eyes of faith. Remind yourself that He is the God of great wonders and can be trusted (v. 14).
May these ideas help us gain perspective and keep moving in our faith journey with Jesus.
I couldn't take my actions back. A woman had parked her car and blocked my way of getting to the gas pump. She hopped out to drop off some recycling items, and I didn't feel like waiting, so I honked my horn at her. Irritated, I put my car in reverse and drove around another way. I immediately felt bad about being impatient and unwilling to wait 30 seconds (at the most) for her to move. I apologized to God. Yes, she should have parked in the designated area, but I could have spread kindness and patience instead of harshness. Unfortunately it was too late to apologize to her—she was gone.
Many of the Proverbs challenge us to think about how to respond when people get in the way of our plans. There’s the one that says, “Fools show their annoyance at once” (Prov. 12:16). And “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (20:3). Then there’s this one that goes straight to the heart: “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end” (29:11).
Growing in patience and kindness seems pretty difficult sometimes. But the apostle Paul says it is the work of God, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). As we cooperate with Him and depend on Him, He produces that fruit in us. Please change us, Lord.
While watching a fireworks display during a celebration in my city, I became distracted. Off to the right and the left of the main event, smaller fireworks occasionally popped up in the sky. They were good, but watching them caused me to miss parts of the more spectacular display directly above me.
Sometimes good things take us away from something better. That happened in the life of Martha, whose story is recorded in Luke 10:38-42. When Jesus and His disciples arrived in the village of Bethany, Martha welcomed them into her home. Being a good host meant that someone had to prepare the meal for the guests, so we don’t want to be too hard on her.
When Martha complained that her sister Mary wasn’t helping, Jesus defended Mary’s choice to sit at His feet. But the Lord wasn’t saying that Mary was more spiritual than her sister. On occasion Martha seems to have shown more trust in Jesus than Mary did (John 11:19-20). And He wasn’t being critical of Martha’s desire to look after their physical needs. Rather, what the Lord wanted Martha to hear is that in the busyness of our service, listening to Him is the main event.