This was a tree to be envied. Growing on riverfront property, it didn’t have to worry about weather reports, withering temperatures, or an uncertain future. Nourished and cooled by the river, it spent its days lifting its branches to the sun, holding the earth with its roots, cleaning the air with its leaves, and offering shade to all who needed refuge from the sun.
By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to a shrub (Jer. 17:6). When the rains stopped and the summer sun turned the ground to dust, the bush shriveled into itself, offering no shade or fruit to anyone.
Why would the prophet compare a flourishing tree to a withering bush? He wanted his people to recall what had happened since their miraculous rescue from the slave yards of Egypt. For forty years in a wilderness, they lived like a tree planted by a river (Jer. 2:4–6). Yet in the prosperity of their promised land they had forgotten their own story; they were relying on themselves and on gods of their own making (vv. 7–8), even to the point of going back to Egypt looking for help (42:14).
So God, through Jeremiah, lovingly urged the forgetful children of Israel, and us, to be like the tree—not the bush.
By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.
Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).
We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.
I enjoy gazing up at a cloudless blue sky. The sky is a beautiful part of our great Creator’s masterpiece, given for us to enjoy. Imagine how much pilots must love the view. They use several aeronautical terms to describe a perfect sky for flying, but my favorite is, “You can see to tomorrow.”
Actually, “seeing to tomorrow” is something even pilots cannot do. Sometimes we even struggle to see or understand what life is throwing at us today. The Bible tells us, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
But our limited visibility is not cause for despair. Just the opposite. We trust in the God who sees all of our tomorrows perfectly—and who knows what we need as we face the challenges ahead. The apostle Paul knew this. That’s why Paul encourages us with hopeful words, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:1-9).
When we trust God with our day as well as our unseen tomorrows, we don’t need to worry about anything life throws at us. We walk with Him and He knows what is ahead; He is strong enough and wise enough to handle it.
The little boy was only eight when he announced to his parents’ friend Wally, “I love Jesus and want to serve God overseas someday.” During the next ten years or so, Wally prayed for him as he watched him grow up. When this young man later applied with a mission agency to go to Mali, Wally told him, “It’s about time! When…
Our son and daughter-in-law had an emergency. Our grandson Cameron was suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis and needed to go to the hospital. They asked if we could pick up their five-year-old son, Nathan, from school and take him home. Marlene and I were glad to do so.
When Nathan got in the car, Marlene asked, “Are you surprised that we came to get you today?” He responded, “No!” When we asked why not, he replied, “Because I know everything!”
A five-year-old can claim to know everything, but those of us who are a bit older know better. We often have more questions than answers. We wonder about the whys, whens, and hows of life—often forgetting that though we do not know everything, we know the God who does.
Psalm 139:1 and 3 speak of our all-knowing God’s all-encompassing, intimate understanding of us. David says, “You have searched me,
Our knowledge will always be limited, but knowing God is what matters most. We can trust Him.
Sometimes when I put my head on my pillow at night and pray, I imagine I’m leaning on Jesus. Whenever I do this, I remember something God’s Word tells us about the apostle John. John himself writes about how he was sitting beside Jesus at the Last Supper: “One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him” (John 13:23).
John used the term “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a way of referring to himself without mentioning his own name. He is also depicting a typical banquet setting in first-century Israel, where the table was much lower than those we use today, about knee height. Reclining without chairs on a mat or cushions was the natural position for those around the table. John was sitting so close to the Lord that when he turned to ask him a question, he was “leaning back against Jesus” (John 13:25), with his head on his chest.
John’s closeness to Jesus in that moment provides a helpful illustration for our lives with Him today. We may not be able to touch Jesus physically, but we can entrust the weightiest circumstances of our lives to Him. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). How blessed we are to have a Savior whom we can trust to be faithful through every circumstance of our lives! Are you “leaning” on Him today?
A young Japanese woman’s book on decluttering and organizing has sold two million copies worldwide. The heart of Marie Kondo’s message is helping people get rid of unneeded things in their homes and closets—things that weigh them down. “Hold up each item,” she says, and ask, ‘Does it spark joy?’” If the answer is yes, keep it. If the answer is no, then give it away.
The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to pursue joy in their relationship with Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Instead of a life cluttered with anxiety, he urged them to pray about everything and let God’s peace guard their hearts and minds in Christ (vv. 6–7).
Looking at our everyday tasks and responsibilities, we see that not all of them are enjoyable. But we can ask, “How can this spark joy in God’s heart and in my own?” A change in why we do things can bring a transformation in how we feel about them.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (v. 8).
Paul’s parting words are food for thought and a recipe for joy.
During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”
Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).
In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.
Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.
In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.
Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.
One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”
A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.
The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose.