French artist Henri Matisse felt his work in the last years of his life best represented him. During that time he experimented with a new style, creating colorful, large-scale pictures with paper instead of paint. He decorated the walls of his room with these bright images. This was important to him because he had been diagnosed with cancer and was often confined to his bed.
Becoming ill, losing a job, or enduring heartbreak are examples of what some call “being in the valley,” where dread overshadows everything else. The people of Judah experienced this when they heard an invading army was approaching (2 Chron. 20:2–3). Their king prayed, “If calamity comes . . . [we] will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us” (v. 9). God responded, “Go out to face [your enemies] tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).
When Judah’s army arrived at the battlefield, their enemies had already destroyed each other. God’s people spent three days collecting the abandoned equipment, clothing, and valuables. Before leaving, they assembled to praise God and named the place “The Valley of Berakah,” which means “blessing.”
God walks with us through the lowest points in our lives. He can make it possible to discover blessings in the valleys.
Don is a border collie who lives on a farm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. One morning, he and his owner, Tom, set out to check on some animals. They rode together in a small farm utility truck. When they arrived, Tom left the vehicle but forgot to put the brake on. With Don in the driver’s seat, the vehicle rolled down a hill and across two lanes of traffic before it stopped safely. To watching motorists, it appeared the dog was out for a morning drive. Indeed, things are not always as they seem.
It seemed as if Elisha and his servant were about to be captured and carried off to the King of Aram. The king’s forces had surrounded the city where Elisha and his servant were staying. The servant believed they were doomed, but Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid . . . . Those who are with us are more than those who are with [the enemy]” (2 Kings 6:16). When Elisha prayed, the servant was able to see the multitudes of supernatural forces that were in place to protect them.
Situations that seem hopeless are not always the way we perceive them to be. When we feel overwhelmed and outnumbered, we can remember that God is by our side. He can “command his angels . . . to guard [us] in all our ways” (Ps. 91:11).
It was a busy morning in the church room where I was helping. Nearly a dozen little children were chattering and playing. There was so much activity that the room became warm and I propped the door open. One little boy saw this as his chance to escape so when he thought no one was looking, he tiptoed out the door. Hot on his trail, I wasn’t surprised that he was headed straight for his daddy’s arms.
The little boy did what we need to do when life becomes busy and overwhelming—he slipped away to be with his father. Jesus looked for opportunities to spend time with His heavenly Father in prayer. Some might say this was how He coped with the demands that depleted His human energy. According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was headed to a solitary place when a crowd of people followed Him. Noticing their needs, Jesus miraculously healed and fed them. After that, however, He “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” (v. 23).
Jesus repeatedly helped multitudes of people, yet He didn’t allow Himself to become haggard and hurried. He nurtured His connection with God through prayer. How is it with you? Will you take time alone with God to experience His strength and fulfillment?
It was a dark morning. Low, steel-colored clouds filled the sky, and the atmosphere was so dim that I needed to turn on the lights in order to read a book. I had just settled in when the room suddenly filled with light. I looked up and saw that the wind was pushing the clouds to the east, clearing the sky and revealing the sun.
As I went to the window to get a better look at the drama, a thought came to mind: “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The apostle John wrote these words to believers as a message of encouragement. He went on to say, “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing to make them stumble” (v. 10). By contrast, he equated hating people with roaming around in darkness. Hatred is disorienting; it takes away our sense of moral direction.
Loving people is not always easy. Yet as I was reminded at the window, frustration, forgiveness, and faithfulness are all part of maintaining a deep connection with the love and light of God. When we choose love instead of hate, we are showing our relationship with Him and reflecting His radiance to the world around us. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
While Nicholas Taylor was boarding a train in Perth, Australia, his leg became wedged in the gap between the platform and a commuter car. When safety officials could not free him, they coordinated the efforts of nearly 50 passengers who lined up and, on the count of three, pushed against the train. Working in unison, they shifted the weight just enough to free Taylor’s leg.
The apostle Paul recognized the power of Christians working together in many of his letters to the early churches. He urged the Roman believers to accept each other the way Christ had accepted them and said, “[May God] give you 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” (Rom. 15:5-6).
Unity with other believers enables us to broadcast God’s greatness and also helps us to endure persecution. Knowing that the Philippians would pay a price for their faith, Paul encouraged them to strive “together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (Phil. 1:27-28).
Satan loves to divide and conquer, but his efforts fail when, with God’s help, we “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Raleigh looks like a powerful dog—he is large and muscular and has a thick coat of fur. And he weighs over 100 pounds! Despite his appearance, Raleigh connects well with people. His owner takes him to nursing homes and hospitals to bring people a smile.
Once, a four-year-old girl spotted Raleigh across a room. She wanted to pet him, but was afraid to get close. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her sense of caution and she spent several minutes talking to him and petting him. She discovered that he is a gentle creature, even though he is powerful.
The combination of these qualities reminds me of what we read about Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was approachable—He welcomed little children (Matt. 19:13-15). He was kind to an adulterous woman in a desperate situation (John 8:1-11). Compassion motivated Him to teach crowds (Mark 6:34). At the same time, Jesus’ power was astounding. Heads turned and jaws dropped as He subdued demons, calmed violent storms, and resurrected dead people! (Mark 1:21-34; Mark 4:35-41; John 11).
The way we see Jesus determines how we relate to Him. If we focus only on His power, we may treat Him with the detached worship we’d give a comic book superhero. Yet, if we overemphasize His kindness, we risk treating Him too casually. The truth is that Jesus is both at once—great enough to deserve our obedience yet humble enough to call us friends.
During a walk at a local park, my children and I encountered a couple of unleashed dogs. Their owner didn’t seem to notice that one of them had begun to intimidate my son. My son tried to shoo the dog away, but the animal only became more intent on bothering him.
Eventually, my son panicked. He bolted several yards into the distance, but the dog pursued him. The chase continued until I yelled, “Run to me!” My son doubled back, calmed down, and the dog finally decided to make mischief somewhere else.
There are moments in our lives when God calls to us and says, “Run to Me!” Something troubling is on our heels. The faster and farther we go, the more closely it pursues us. We can’t shake it. We’re too afraid to turn and confront the trouble on our own. But the reality is that we aren’t on our own. God is there, ready to help and comfort us. All we have to do is turn away from whatever scares us, and move in His direction. His Word says, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (v. 10).
When my son acquired a small robot, he had fun programming it to perform simple tasks. He could make it move forward, stop, and then retrace its steps. He could even get it to beep and replay recorded noises. The robot did exactly what my son told it to do. It never laughed spontaneously or veered off in an unplanned direction. It had no choice.
When God created humans, He didn’t make robots. God made us in His image, and this means we can think, reason, and make decisions. We’re able to choose between right and wrong. Even if we have made a habit of disobeying God, we can decide to redirect our lives.
When the ancient Israelites found themselves in trouble with God, He spoke to them through the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel said, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. . . . Get a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 18:30–31).
This kind of change can begin with just one choice, empowered by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13). It might mean saying no at a critical moment. No more gossip. No more greed. No more jealousy. No more ___________ (You fill in the blank.) If you know Jesus, you’re not a slave to sin. You can choose to change, and with God’s help, this personal revolution can start today.
Cade Pope, a 12-year-old boy from Oklahoma, mailed out 32 handwritten letters—one to each executive in charge of a National Football League (NFL) team in the US. Cade wrote, "My family and I love football. We play fantasy football and watch [the] games every weekend. . . . I am ready to pick an NFL team to cheer on for a lifetime!"
Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers football team, responded with a handwritten note of his own. The first line read: “We would be honored if our [team] became your team. We would make you proud.” Richardson went on to commend some of his players. His letter was not only personal and kindhearted—it was the only response that Cade received. Not surprisingly, Cade became a loyal fan of the Carolina Panthers.
In Psalm 86, David spoke about his allegiance to the one true God. He said, “When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Among the gods there is none like you,