When I married my English fiancé and moved to the United Kingdom, I thought it would be a five-year adventure in a foreign land. I never dreamed I’d still be living here nearly twenty years later, or that at times I’d feel like I was losing my life as I said goodbye to family and friends, work, and all that was familiar. But in losing my old way of life, I’ve found a better one.
The upside-down gift of finding life when we lose it is what Jesus promised to His apostles. When He sent out the twelve disciples to share His good news, He asked them to love Him more than their mothers or fathers, sons or daughters (Matt. 10:37). His words came in a culture where families were the cornerstone of the society and highly valued. But He promised that if they would lose their life for His sake, they would find it (v. 39).
We don’t have to move abroad to find ourselves in Christ. Through service and commitment—such as the disciples going out to share the good news of the kingdom of God—we find ourselves receiving more than we give through the lavish love the Lord showers on us. Of course He loves us no matter how much we serve, but we find contentment, meaning, and fulfillment when we pour ourselves out for the well-being of others.
My young son loves to hear my voice, except when I call his name loudly and sternly, followed by the question, “Where are you?” When I do that, I am usually calling for him because he has been into some mischief and is trying to hide from me. I want my son to listen to my voice because I’m concerned about his well-being and do not want him to get hurt.
Adam and Eve were used to hearing God’s voice in the garden. However, after they disobeyed Him by eating the forbidden fruit, they hid from Him when they heard Him calling, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). They didn’t want to face God because they knew they had done something wrong—something He had told them not to do (v. 11).
When God called for Adam and Eve and found them in the garden, His words did include correction and consequence (vv. 13–19). But God also showed them kindness and gave them hope for mankind in the promise of the Savior (v. 15).
God doesn’t have to look for us. He knows where we are and what we are trying to hide. But as a loving Father, He wants to speak to our hearts and bring us forgiveness and restoration. He longs for us to hear His voice—and to listen.
Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
The weeks after Christmas are the busiest time of year in the US for merchandise returns as people trade unwanted gifts for what they really want. Yet you probably know a few people who always seem to give the perfect gift. How do they know just what another person values and what is right for the occasion? The key to successful gift-giving is not money; it’s listening to others and taking a personal interest in what they enjoy and appreciate.
This is true for family and friends. But what about God? Is there anything meaningful or valuable that we can give to God? Is there anything He doesn’t already have?
Romans 11:33–36, a song of praise to God for His great wisdom, knowledge, and glory, is followed by a call to give ourselves to Him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Instead of being shaped by the world around us, we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (v. 2).
What’s the best gift we can give to God today? In gratitude, humility, and love we can give ourselves completely to Him—heart, mind, and will. It’s just what the Lord is longing to receive from each of us.
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.
I felt like I was underwater, sounds muffled and muted by a cold and allergies. For weeks I struggled to hear clearly. My condition made me realize how much I take my hearing for granted.
Young Samuel in the temple must have wondered what he was hearing as he struggled out of sleep at the summons of his name (1 Sam. 3:4). Three times he presented himself before Eli, the High Priest. Only the third time did Eli realize it was the Lord speaking to Samuel. The word of the Lord had been rare at that time (v. 1), and the people were not in tune with His voice. But Eli instructed Samuel how to respond (v. 9).
The Lord speaks much more now than in the days of Samuel. The letter to the Hebrews tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2). And in Acts 2 we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (vv. 1-4), who guides us in the things Christ taught us (John 16:13). But we need to learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Like me with my cold, we may hear as if underwater. We need to test what we think is the Lord’s guidance with the Bible and with other mature Christians. As God’s beloved children, we do hear His voice. He loves to speak life into us.
I needed an underground water tank and knew precisely how I wanted it constructed, so I gave clear instructions to the builder. The next day when I inspected the project, I was annoyed when I realized that he had failed to carry out my instructions. He had changed the plan and therefore the effect. The excuse he gave was as irritating as his failure to follow my directives.
As I watched him redo the concrete work, and as my frustration diminished, a guilty conviction swept over me: How many times have I needed to redo things in my life in obedience to the Lord?
Like the ancient Israelites who frequently failed to do what God asked them to do, we too often go our own way. Yet obedience is a desired result of our deepening relationship with God. Moses told the people, "Be careful to do what the
This is still the kind of surrender of our hearts that leads to our well-being. As the Spirit helps us to obey, it is refreshing to remember that He “works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
As I ventured out several weeks after shoulder surgery, I was fearful. I had become comfortable using my arm sling, but both my surgeon and physical therapist now told me to stop wearing it. That’s when I saw this statement: “At this stage, sling wear is discouraged except as a visible sign of vulnerability in an uncontrolled environment.”
Ah, that was it! I feared the enthusiastic friend who might give me a bear hug or the unaware friend who might bump me accidentally. I was hiding behind my flimsy baby-blue sling because I feared being hurt.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can be scary. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, but we fear that if people truly knew us, they would reject us and we could get hurt. What if they found out we are not smart enough . . . kind enough . . . good enough?
But as members of God’s family, we have a responsibility to help each other grow in faith. We’re told to “encourage one another,” to “build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
When we are honest and vulnerable with other believers, we may discover we have mutual struggles battling temptation or learning how to live obediently. But most of all, we will share the wonder of God’s gift of grace in our lives.
It became painfully clear the first time my wife and I collaborated on a writing project that procrastination was going to be a major obstacle. Her role was to edit my work and keep me on schedule; my role seemed to be to drive her crazy. Most times, her organization and patience outlasted my resistance to deadlines and direction.
I promised to have a certain amount of writing done by the end of one day. For the first hour, I plugged away diligently. Satisfied with what I’d accomplished so far, I decided to take a break. Before I knew it, my time was up. In trouble for sure, I thought of a way out. I set about doing a couple of chores my wife despised and which always netted me praise when I did them.
My plan failed.
I sometimes play the same games with God. He brings specific people into my life He wants me to serve or tasks He wants me to accomplish. Like Jonah, who went another way when God gave Him an assignment (Jonah 4:2), I need to set aside my own feelings. I often try to impress God with good deeds or spiritual activity when what He really wants is obedience to His priorities. Inevitably, my plan fails.
Are you dodging duties God makes clear He wants you to tackle? Trust me (or Jonah): Real contentment comes from doing it in His strength and in His way.