A small pamphlet I received from a friend was titled “An Attempt to Share the Story of 86 Years of Relationship with the Lord.” In it, Al Ackenheil noted key people and events in his journey of faith over nearly nine decades. What seemed to be ordinary choices at the time—memorizing Bible verses, meeting for prayer with others, telling his neighbors about Jesus—became turning points that changed the direction of his life. It was fascinating to read how God’s hand guided and encouraged Al.
The psalmist wrote, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way” (Ps. 37:23). The passage continues with a beautiful description of God’s faithful care for everyone who wants to walk with Him. “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide” (v. 31).
Each of us could create a record of God’s leading and faithfulness, reflecting on God’s guidance—the people, places, and experiences that are landmarks on our pathway of faith. Every remembrance of the Lord’s goodness encourages us to keep walking with Him and to thank someone who influenced us for good.
The Lord guides and guards all who walk with Him.
Author William Zinsser described his last visit to see the house where he grew up, a place he greatly loved as a boy. When he and his wife arrived at the hill overlooking Manhasset Bay and Long Island Sound, they found that the house had been demolished. All that remained was a huge hole. Disheartened, they walked to the nearby seawall. Zinsser looked across the bay, absorbing the sights and sounds. Later, he wrote of this experience, “I was at ease and only slightly sad. The view was intact: the unique configuration of land and sea I remember so well that I still dream about it.”
The psalmist wrote of a difficult time when his soul refused to be comforted and his spirit was overwhelmed (Ps. 77:2-3). But in the midst of his trouble, he shifted his focus from his sadness to his Savior, saying, “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord . . . Your wonders of old” (vv. 10-11).
In dealing with disappointment, we can either focus on our loss or on God Himself. The Lord invites us to look to Him and see the scope of His goodness, His presence with us, and His eternal love.
For more than two decades, Andrew Carroll has been urging people not to throw away the letters written by family members or friends during a time of war. Carroll, director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, considers them an irreplaceable link to tie families together and open a door of understanding. “Younger generations are reading these letters,” Carroll says, “and asking questions and saying, ‘Now I understand what you endured, what you sacrificed.’ ”
When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew his life would soon end, he wrote a letter to a young man whom he considered a “son in the faith,” Timothy. Like a soldier on the battlefield, Paul opened his heart to him: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
When we read the letters in the Bible that the heroes of the Christian faith have left for us and grasp what they endured because of their love for Christ, we gain courage to follow their example and to stand strong for those who come after us.
Many years ago during a water safety class, we were taught how to save a drowning person who is resisting rescue. “Approach the person from behind,” the instructor told us. “Place one arm across the person’s chest and flailing arms, and swim toward safety. If you approach from the front, the person may grab you and pull both of you down.” Panic and fear can paralyze the ability to think and act wisely.
When two angels sent by God came to rescue Lot and his family from the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:12-13), they encountered resistance. Lot’s sons-in-law thought the warning was a joke (v. 14). When the angels told Lot to hurry and leave, he hesitated (v. 15). At that point, the two angels “took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters,” and led them safely out of the city because God was merciful toward them (v. 16).
When we reflect on our journey of faith in Christ, we can see God’s faithfulness in overcoming our reluctance and resistance. When we encounter people lashing out in spiritual desperation and fear, may we have God’s wisdom to show His love to them—and to every person who is reluctant to be rescued by Him.
After former professional athlete Chris Sanders suffered a career-ending injury, he told a group of military veterans that although he had never experienced combat, “I understand the pressures of transitions.”
Whether it’s the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, a serious illness, or a financial setback, every major change brings challenges. The former athlete told the soldiers that the key to success when you are transitioning into a new way of living is to reach out and get help.
The book of Joshua is recommended reading whenever we find ourselves in transition. After 40 years of wandering and setbacks, God’s people were poised to enter the Promised Land. Moses, their great leader, had died, and Joshua, his assistant, was in charge.
God told Joshua to “be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7). God’s words of direction were to be the bedrock of Joshua’s leadership in every situation.
The Lord’s charge and promise to Joshua apply to us as well: “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (v. 9).
He is with us in every transition.
In a park near our home there’s a trail I enjoy walking on. Along one section there’s a panoramic view of red sandstone rocks in the Garden of the Gods with the majestic 14,115-foot Pikes Peak behind them. From time to time, though, I find myself walking that section occupied with some problem and looking down at the wide, smooth trail. If no one is around, I may stop and say aloud, “David, look up!”
The psalms known as “Songs of Ascents” (Ps. 120–134) were sung by the people of Israel as they walked the road up to Jerusalem to attend the three annual pilgrim festivals. Psalm 121 begins, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence comes my help?” (v. 1). The answer follows, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 2). The Creator is not an aloof being, but a companion who is always with us, always awake to our circumstances (vv. 3-7), guiding and guarding our journey through life “from this time forth, and even forevermore” (v. 8).
Along life’s path, how we need to keep our eyes fixed on God, our source of help. When we’re feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, it’s all right to say aloud, “Look up!”
When Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert died, a fellow journalist wrote of him: “With all his notoriety, honors, and celebrity, all his exclusive interviews and star-dusted encounters with movie greats, Ebert never forgot the essence of what we do—review movies. And he reviewed them with an infectious zeal and probing intellect” (Dennis King, The Oklahoman).
The apostle Paul never forgot the essence of what God wanted him to be and do. Focus and enthusiasm were at the heart of his relationship with Christ. Whether he was reasoning with philosophers in Athens, experiencing shipwreck in the Mediterranean, or being chained to a Roman soldier in prison, he focused on his calling to know “Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” and to teach about Him (Phil. 3:10).
While he was in prison, Paul wrote, “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Whatever his circumstances, Paul continually pressed forward in his calling as a disciple of Christ.
May we always remember the essence, the heart, of who we are called to be and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.
Often called “The March King,” composer and band director John Philip Sousa created music that has been played by bands around the world for more than a hundred years. As Loras John Schissel, music historian and conductor of the Virginia Grand Military Band, said, “Sousa is to marches what Beethoven is to symphonies.” Sousa understood the power of music to motivate, encourage, and inspire people.
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, is filled with anonymously donated remnants of love gone wrong. There is an axe that a jilted lover used to destroy the furniture of an offending partner. Stuffed animals, love letters framed in broken glass, and wedding dresses all speak volumes of heartache. While some visitors to the museum leave in tears over their own loss, some couples depart with hugs and a promise not to fail each other.