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).
The obituary for Alan Nanninga, a man in my city, identified him as “foremost, a dedicated witness for Christ.” After a description of his family life and career, the article mentioned nearly a decade of declining health. It concluded by saying, “His hospital stays . . . earned him the honorary title of ‘The Praying Patient’” because of his ministry to other patients. Here was a man who, in his times of distress, reached out to pray for and with the people in need around him.
Hours before Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for His disciples. “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Knowing what was about to happen, Jesus looked beyond Himself to focus on His followers and friends.
During our times of illness and distress, we long for and need the prayers of others. How those prayers help and encourage us! But may we also, like our Lord, lift our eyes to pray for those around us who are in great need.
Sunlight glittered on the swimming pool in front of me. I overheard an instructor speaking to a student who had been in the water for quite a while. He said, “It looks like you’re getting tired. When you’re exhausted and in deep water, try the survival float.”
Certain situations in life require us to spend our mental, physical, or emotional energy in a way that we can’t sustain. David described a time when his enemies were threatening him and he felt the emotional weight of their anger. He needed to escape the distress he was experiencing.
As he processed his feelings, he found a way to rest in his troubled thoughts. He said, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). He recognized that God supports us if we dare to release our problems to Him. We don’t have to take charge of every situation and try to craft the outcome—that’s exhausting! God is in control of every aspect of our life.
Instead of trying to do everything in our own effort, we can find rest in God. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking Him to handle our problems. Then we can pause, relax, and enjoy the knowledge that He is sustaining us.
A young boy showered my husband, Carl, and me with bubbles as he came running by us on the Atlantic City boardwalk. It was a light and fun moment on a difficult day. We had come to the city to visit our brother-in-law in the hospital and to help Carl’s sister who was struggling and having trouble getting to her doctors’ appointments. So as we took a break and walked along the seaside boardwalk we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the needs of our family.
Then came the bubbles. Just bubbles blown at us whimsically by a little boy in the ocean breeze—except for what I knew. I love bubbles and keep a bottle in my office to use whenever I need the smile of a bubble break. Those bubbles and the vast Atlantic Ocean reminded me of what I can count on: God is always close. He is powerful. He always cares. And He can use even the smallest experiences, and briefest moments, to help us remember that His presence is like an ocean of grace in the middle of our heavy moments.
Maybe one day our troubles will seem like bubbles—momentary in light of eternity for “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Emil was a homeless man who spent a whole year looking down at the pavement as he plodded around the city day after day. He was ashamed to meet the eyes of others in case they recognized him, for his life had not always been lived out on the streets. Even more than that, he was intent on finding a coin that had been dropped or a half-smoked cigarette. His downward focus became such a habit that the bones of his spine began to become fixed in that position so that he had great difficulty in straightening up at all.
The prophet Elisha’s servant was terrified as he looked at the huge army the king of Aram had sent to capture his master (2 Kings 6:15). But Elisha knew he was looking in the wrong direction, seeing only the danger and the size of the opposition. He needed to have his eyes opened to see the divine protection that surrounded them, which was far greater than anything Aram could bring against Elijah (v. 17).
When life is difficult and we feel we are under pressure, it’s so easy to see nothing but our problems. But the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggests a better way. He reminds us that Jesus went through unimaginable suffering in our place and that if we fix our eyes on Him (12:2), He will strengthen us.
Some young children have trouble falling asleep at night. While there may be many reasons for this, my daughter explained one of them as I turned to leave her bedroom one evening. “I’m afraid of the dark,” she said. I tried to relieve her fear, but I left a nightlight on so she could be sure that her room was monster-free.
I didn’t think much more about my daughter’s fear until a few weeks later when my husband went on an overnight business trip. After I settled into bed, the dark seemed to press in around me. I heard a tiny noise and jumped up to investigate. It turned out to be nothing but I finally understood my daughter’s fear when I experienced it myself.
Jesus understands our fears and problems because He lived on the earth as a human and endured the same types of trouble we face. “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isa. 53:3). When we describe our struggles to Him, He doesn’t brush us aside, minimize our feelings, or tell us to snap out of it—He relates to our distress. Somehow, knowing that He understands can dispel the loneliness that often accompanies suffering. In our darkest times, He is our light and our salvation.
A comfortable plane ride was about to get bumpy. The voice of the captain interrupted in-flight beverage service and asked passengers to make sure their seatbelts were fastened. Soon the plane began to roll and pitch like a ship on a wind-whipped ocean. While the rest of the passengers were doing their best to deal with the turbulence, a little girl sat through it all reading her book. After the plane landed, she was asked why she had been able to be so calm. She responded, “My daddy is the pilot and he’s taking me home.”
Though Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen, they were terrified the day a storm threatened to swamp their boat. Why was this happening? They were following Jesus’ instructions (Mark 4:35). He was with them but He was asleep at the stern of the craft. They learned that day that it is not true that when we do as our Lord says there will be no storms in our lives. Yet because He was with them, they also learned that storms don’t stop us from getting to where our Lord wants us to go (5:1).
Whether the storm we encounter today is the result of a tragic accident, a loss of employment, or some other trial, we can be confident that all is not lost. Our Pilot can handle the storm. He will get us home.
“My mother gave us chili peppers before we went to bed,” said Samuel, recalling his difficult childhood in sub-Saharan Africa. “We drank water to cool our mouths, and then we would feel full.” He added, “It did not work well.”
Government upheaval had forced Samuel’s father to flee for his life, leaving their mother as the family’s sole provider. Then his brother contracted sickle cell anemia, and they couldn’t afford medical care. Their mother took them to church, but it didn’t mean much to Sam. How could God allow our family to suffer like this? he wondered.
Then one day a man learned about their plight. He got the essential medicine and brought it to them. “On Sunday we will go to this man’s church,” his mother announced. Right away Sam sensed something different about this church. They celebrated their relationship with Jesus by living His love.
That was three decades ago. Today in this part of the world, Sam has started more than 20 churches, a large school, and a home for orphans. He’s continuing the legacy of true religion taught by James, the brother of Jesus, who urged us not to “merely listen to the word” but to “do what it says” (James 1:22). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v. 27).
There’s no telling what a simple act of kindness done in Jesus’ name can do.
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” With that in mind, I read an online article describing “The Top 8 Deadliest Prisons in the World.” In one of these prisons every prisoner is held in solitary confinement.
We are intended to live and relate in relationships and community, not in isolation. This is what makes solitary confinement such a harsh punishment.
Isolation is the agony Christ suffered when His eternal relationship with the Father was broken on the cross. We hear this in His cry captured in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” As He suffered and died under the burden of our sins, Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated, cut off from His relationship with the Father. Yet His suffering in isolation secured for us the promise of the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Christ endured the agony and abandonment of the cross for us so that we would never be alone or abandoned by our God. Ever.