American swimmer Dara Torres had a remarkable career, appearing in five different Olympics from 1984 to 2008. Late in her career, Torres broke the US record for the 50-meter freestyle—25 years after she herself set that record. But it wasn’t always medals and records. Torres also encountered obstacles in her athletic career: injuries, surgery, as well as being almost twice the age of most other competitors. She said, “I've wanted to win at everything, every day, since I was a kid. . . . I’m also aware that setbacks have an upside; they fuel new dreams.”
“Setbacks have an upside” is a great life lesson. Torres’s struggles motivated her to reach for new heights. They have a spiritual benefit too. As James said, “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).
Adopting this perspective on the difficulties of life is not easy, but it is worthwhile. Trials provide opportunity to deepen our relationship with God. They also provide the opening to learn lessons that success cannot teach by developing in us the kind of patience that waits on God and trusts Him for the strength to endure.
The psalmist reminds us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
In 1966, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy made an influential visit to South Africa. There he offered words of hope to opponents of apartheid in his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech at the University of Cape Town. In his speech, he declared, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
At times in this world, hope seems scarce. Yet there is an ultimate hope readily available for the follower of Christ. Peter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Through the certainty of Christ’s resurrection, the child of God has a hope that is more than a ripple. It is an overwhelming current of confidence in the faithfulness of the One who conquered death for us. Jesus, in His victory over death—our greatest enemy—can infuse hope into the most hopeless of situations.
When my sister Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer, our family worried. That diagnosis, with its surgeries and treatments, caused us to fear for her well-being, which drove our family to prayer on her behalf. Over the ensuing months, Carole’s updates were honest about the challenges. But we all celebrated when the report came back that the surgery and treatments had been successful. Carole was on the road to recovery!
Then, less than a year later, my sister Linda faced the same battle. Immediately, Carole came alongside Linda, helping her understand what to expect and how to prepare for what she would face. Carole’s experience had equipped her to walk with Linda through her own trial.
This is what Paul calls for in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, where we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t waste anything. Our struggles not only give us an opportunity to experience His comfort, but they also open the door for us to share that comfort with others in their struggles.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a familiar sight greeted ships as they pulled into the port of Savannah, Georgia. That sight was Florence Martus, “The Waving Girl.” For 44 years, Florence greeted the great ships from around the world, waving a handkerchief by day or a lantern by night. Today, a statue of Florence and her faithful dog stands in Savannah’s Morrell Park, permanently welcoming incoming vessels.
There is something in a warm welcome that speaks of acceptance. In Romans 15:7, Paul urged his readers: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (niv). Paul had in view our treatment of each other as followers of Christ, for in verses 5-6 he challenged us to live in harmony with one another. The key is to have “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (niv).
Our acceptance of our fellow believers in Christ demonstrates more than just our love for each other—it reflects the great love of the One who has permanently welcomed us into His family.
In the 2003 US Women’s Open, the relatively unknown Hilary Lunke secured the greatest prize in women’s golf—and a place in history. Not only did she win the US Open in an 18-hole playoff, but it was also her only professional victory. Her surprising and inspiring win underscores the fact that one of the most exciting things about sports is its unpredictability.
The unpredictability of life is not always so thrilling, however. We devise and strategize. We make plans, projections, and proposals about what we would like to see happen in life, but often they are little more than our best guess. We have no idea what a year, a month, a week, or even a day might bring. So we pray and plan, and then we trust the God who knows fully and completely what we can never predict. That is why I love the promise of Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Life is unpredictable. There are countless things I can never know with certainty. What I can know, however, is that there is a God who knows all and loves me deeply. And by knowing Him, I can “be still”—I can be at peace.
The film Amazing Grace was set in the late 1700s. It tells the story of William Wilberforce, a politician who was driven by his faith in Christ to commit his money and energy to abolishing the slave trade in England. In one scene, Wilberforce’s butler finds him praying. The butler asks, “You found God, Sir?” Wilberforce responds, “I think He found me.”
The Bible pictures humanity as wayward and wandering sheep. It says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). In fact, this wayward condition is so deeply rooted in us that the apostle Paul said: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside” (Rom. 3:10-12). That is why Jesus came. We would never seek Him, so He came seeking us. Jesus declared His mission with the words, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Wilberforce was exactly right. Jesus came to find us, for we could never have found Him if left to ourselves. It is a clear expression of the Creator’s love for His lost creation that He pursues us and desires to make us His own.
Most families have their own family stories. One in our family has to do with how I got my name. Apparently, when my parents were in the early days of their marriage, they disagreed about what to name their first son. Mom wanted a son named after Dad, but Dad wasn’t interested in naming a son “Junior.” After much discussion, they reached a compromise, agreeing that only if a son was born on Dad’s birthday would he be given Dad’s name. Amazingly, I was born on my dad’s birthday. So I was given his name with a “Junior” attached to it.
The naming of children is as old as time. As Joseph wrestled with the news that his fiancée, Mary, was pregnant, the angel brought him insight from the Father about naming the Baby: “She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Not only would Jesus be His name, but it would also explain the reason for His coming into the world: To take on Himself the punishment we deserve for our sin. His redemptive purpose behind the manger is wrapped up in the perfectly given Name above all names.
May our heart’s desire be to live in a way that honors His wonderful name!
When I was a boy, I delivered newspapers to about 140 homes on two streets that were connected by a cemetery. Since I delivered a morning newspaper, I had to be out at 3:00 a.m. walking through that cemetery in the darkness. Sometimes I would be so frightened that I would actually run! I was afraid until I was standing safely under a streetlight on the other side. The scary darkness was dispelled by the light.
The psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness” (Ps. 91:5-6). Neither terrors of night nor evil in the darkness need to drive us to fear. We have a God who sent His Son, the Light of the World (John 8:12).
In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to live for Him.
The parents were obviously weary from dragging their two energetic preschoolers through airports and airplanes, and now their final flight was delayed. As I watched the two boys running around the crowded gate area, I wondered how Mom and Dad were going to keep the little guys settled down for our half-hour flight into Grand Rapids. When we finally boarded, I noticed that the father and one of the sons were in the seats behind me. Then I heard the weary father say to his son, “Why don’t you let me read one of your storybooks to you.” And during the entire flight, this loving father softly and patiently read to his son, keeping him calm and focused.
In one of his psalms David declares, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). The word pities refers to showing love and compassion. This tender word gives us a picture of how deeply our heavenly Father loves His children, and it reminds us what a great gift it is to be able to look to God and cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
God longs for you to listen again to the story of His love for you when you are restless on your own journey through life. Your heavenly Father is always near, ready to encourage you with His Word.