I like watching birds, an activity I developed while growing up in a forest village in Ghana where there were many different species of birds. In the city suburb where I now live, I recently observed the behavior of some crows that interested me. Flying toward a tree that had shed most of its leaves, the crows decided to take a rest. But instead of settling on the sturdy branches, they lighted on the dry and weak limbs that quickly gave way. They flapped their way out of danger—only to repeat the useless effort. Apparently their bird-sense didn't tell them that the solid branches were more trustworthy and secure resting places.
How about us? Where do we place our trust? David observes in Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses represent material and human assets. While these represent things that are useful in daily life, they don’t give us security in times of trouble. If we place our trust in things or possessions or wealth, we will find that they eventually give way beneath us, as the branches gave way beneath the crows.
Those who trust in their chariots and horses can be “brought to their knees and fall,” but those who trust in God will “rise up and stand firm” (20:8).
A women’s prayer group in my country holds regular monthly prayer sessions for Ghana and other African countries. When asked why they pray so incessantly for the nations, their leader Gifty Dadzie remarked, “Look around, listen to and watch the news. Our nations are hurting: war, disaster, diseases, and violence threaten to overshadow God’s love for humanity and His blessing upon us. We believe God intervenes in the affairs of nations, so we praise Him for His blessings and cry for His intervention.”
The Bible reveals that God indeed intervenes in the affairs of nations (2 Chron. 7:14). And when God intervenes, He uses ordinary people. We may not be assigned huge tasks, but we can play our part to help bring about peace and the righteousness that exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34). We can do that through prayer. The apostle Paul wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1–2).
As the psalmist exhorted the ancient Israelites to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), so may we pray for the peace and healing of our nations. When we pray in humility, turn from wickedness, and seek God, He hears us.
At the end of one school semester, my wife and I picked up our daughter from her school 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. On our way back home we detoured to a nearby beach resort for snacks. While enjoying our time there, we watched the boats at the seashore. Usually they are anchored to prevent them from drifting away, but I noticed one boat drifting unhindered among the others—slowly and steadily making its way out to sea.
As we drove home, I reflected on the timely caution given to believers in the book of Hebrews: "We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We have good reason to stay close. The author of Hebrews says that while the Mosaic law was reliable and needed to be obeyed, the message of the Son of God is far superior. Our salvation is “so great” in Jesus that He shouldn’t be ignored.
Drifting in our relationship with God is hardly noticeable at first; it happens gradually. However, spending time talking with Him in prayer and reading His Word, confessing our wrongs to Him, and interacting with other followers of Jesus can help us stay anchored in Him. As we connect with the Lord regularly, He will be faithful to sustain us, and we can avoid drifting away.
The year was 1975 and something significant had just happened to me. I needed to find my friend Francis, with whom I shared a lot of personal matters, and tell him about it. I found him in his apartment hurriedly preparing to go out, but I slowed him down. The way he stared at me, he must have sensed that I had something important to tell him. “What is it?” he asked. So I told him simply, “Yesterday I surrendered my life to Jesus!”
Francis looked at me, sighed heavily, and said, “I’ve felt like doing the same for a long time now.” He asked me to share what happened, and I told him how the previous day someone had explained the gospel to me and how I asked Jesus to come into my life. I still remember the tears in his eyes as he too prayed to receive Jesus’ forgiveness. No longer in a hurry, he and I talked and talked about our new relationship with Christ.
After Jesus healed the man with an evil spirit, He told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). The man didn’t need to preach a powerful sermon; he simply needed to share his story.
No matter what our conversion experience is, we can do what that man did: “[He] went away and began to tell . . . how much Jesus had done for him.”
One of my daily chores when I lived with my grandfather in northern Ghana was taking care of sheep. Each morning I took them out to pasture and returned by evening. That was when I first noticed how stubborn sheep can be. Whenever they saw a farm, for instance, their instinct drove them right into it, getting me in trouble with the farmers on a number of occasions.
Sometimes when I was tired from the heat and resting under a tree, I observed the sheep dispersing into the bushes and heading for the hills, causing me to chase after them and scratching my skinny legs in the shrubs. I had a hard time directing the animals away from danger and trouble, especially when robbers sometimes raided the field and stole stray sheep.
So I quite understand when Isaiah says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way" (53:6). We stray in many ways: desiring and doing what displeases our Lord, hurting other people by our conduct, and being distracted from spending time with God and His Word because we are too busy or lack interest. We behave like sheep in the field.
Fortunately for us, we have the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us (John 10:11) and who carries our sorrows and our sins (Isa. 53:4-6). And as our shepherd, He calls us back to safe pasture that we might follow Him more closely.
I learned to recite the Lord's Prayer as a boy in primary school. Every time I said the line, "Give us today our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11), I couldn't help but think about the bread that we got only occasionally at home. Only when my father returned from his trip into town did we have a loaf of bread. So asking God to give us our daily bread was a relevant prayer to me.
How curious I was when years later I discovered the booklet Our Daily Bread. I knew the title came from the Lord’s Prayer, but I also knew it couldn’t be talking about the loaf of bread from the baker’s shop. I discovered as I read the booklet regularly that this "bread," full of Scripture portions and helpful notes, was spiritual food for the soul.
It was spiritual food that Mary chose when she sat at the feet of Jesus and listened attentively to His words (Luke 10:39). While Martha wearied herself with concern about physical food, Mary was taking time to be near their guest, the Lord Jesus, and to listen to Him. May we take that time as well. He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and He feeds our hearts with spiritual food. He is the Bread that satisfies.
At her mother’s 50th birthday celebration with hundreds of people present, firstborn daughter Kukua recounted what her mother had done for her. The times were hard, Kukua remembered, and funds were scarce in the home. But her single mother deprived herself of personal comfort, selling her precious jewelry and other possessions in order to put Kukua through high school. With tears in her eyes, Kukua said that no matter how difficult things were, her mother never abandoned her or her siblings.
God compared His love for His people with a mother’s love for her child. When the people of Israel felt abandoned by God during their exile, they complained: “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (Isa. 49:14). But God said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (v. 15).
When we are distressed or disillusioned, we may feel abandoned by society, family, and friends, but God does not abandon us. It is a great encouragement that the Lord says, "I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (v. 16) to indicate how much He knows and protects us. Even if people forsake us, God will never forsake His own.
When we think of the chameleon, we probably think of its ability to change color according to its surroundings. But this lizard has another interesting characteristic. On several occasions I've watched a chameleon walk along a pathway and wondered how it ever reached its destination. Reluctantly, the chameleon stretches out one leg, seems to change its mind, attempts again, and then carefully plants a hesitant foot, as if afraid the ground will collapse under it. That was why I couldn't help laughing when I heard someone say, “Do not be a chameleon church member who says, ‘Let me go to church today; no, let me go next week; no, let me wait for a while!’”
“The house of the Lord” at Jerusalem was King David’s place of worship, and he was far from being a “chameleon” worshiper. Rather, he rejoiced with those who said, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1). The same was true for believers in the early church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:42, 46).
What a joy it is to join with others in worship and fellowship! Praying and worshiping together, studying the Scriptures together, and caring for one another are essential for our spiritual growth and unity as believers.
People post obituary notices on billboards and concrete block walls in Ghana regularly. Headlines such as Gone Too Soon, Celebration of Life, and What a Shock! announce the passing away of loved ones and the approaching funerals. One I read—In Transition—points to life beyond the grave.
When a close relative or friend dies, we sorrow as Mary and Martha did for their brother Lazarus (John 11:17-27). We miss the departed so much that our hearts break and we weep, as Jesus wept at the passing of His friend (v. 35).
Yet, it was at this sorrowful moment Jesus made a delightful statement on life after death: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (v. 25).
On the basis of this we give departed believers only a temporary farewell. For they “will be with the Lord forever,” Paul emphasizes (1 Thess. 4:17). Of course, farewells are painful, but we can rest assured that they are in the Lord’s safe hands.
In Transition suggests that we are only changing from one situation to another. Though life on earth ends for us, we will continue to live forever and better in the next life where Jesus is. “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v. 18).