As I watched a bumblebee land lightly on the Russian sage, I marveled at its lush branches. The bush exploded with color, its brilliant blue blossoms attracting eyes and bees alike.
Yet only last fall, I’d wondered if it would ever blossom again. When my wife’s parents trimmed the periwinkle plant down to a stub, I’d assumed they’d decided to get rid of it. But now I was witnessing the radiant result of pruning that had seemed brutal to me.
The surprising beauty that results from harsh cuts may be one of the reasons Jesus chose pruning imagery to describe God’s work among believers in John 15, saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. . . . every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (vv. 1–2).
Jesus’s words remind us that in the good times and bad, God is always working in us toward spiritual renewal and fruitfulness (v. 5). During “pruning” seasons of suffering or emotional barrenness, we may wonder if we’ll ever thrive again. But Jesus encourages us to continue to stick close to Him: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).
And as we continually draw spiritual nourishment from Christ, the resulting beauty and fruitfulness in our lives (v. 8) will witness to the world of God’s goodness.
Recently, my car needed work. The mechanic’s shop was close, a mile from my home. So I decided to just walk home. But as I shuffled along next to a bustling thoroughfare, I noticed something: Everyone else was moving so fast.
This isn’t rocket science. Cars go faster than pedestrians. Zip, zip, zip! As I ambled home, I had a realization: We’re so used to moving fast. All the time. Then, another realization: I often expect God to move just as quickly. I want His plans to fit my speedy timetable.
When Jesus lived on Earth, His seemingly slow pace sometimes disappointed His friends. In John 11, Mary and Martha sent word that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. They knew Jesus could help (vv. 1–3). He arrived some four days later (v. 17), after Lazarus had died. “Lord, ” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Translation: Jesus didn’t move fast enough. But Jesus had bigger plans: raising Lazarus from the dead (vv. 38–44).
Can you relate to Martha’s desperation? I can. Sometimes, I long for Jesus to move more quickly to answer a prayer. Sometimes, it seems like He’s late. But Jesus’ sovereign schedule is different from ours. Jesus accomplishes His saving work on His timetable, not ours. And the ultimate outcome displays His glory and goodness in ways that are so much greater than our plans.
Do you know what a group of turkeys is called? I didn’t. Had to look it up. It’s called a rafter. Why am I writing about turkeys? Because I’ve just returned from a weekend at a mountain cabin. Each day, I marveled at the train of turkeys parading past our porch.
I’d never been turkey-watching before. They scratched fiercely with spectacular talons. Then they hunted and pecked at the ground. Eating, I assume. (This was my first turkey-observation time, so I’m not 100% positive.) The scrawny scrubs in the area didn’t look like they could sustain anything. Yet here were these turkeys, a dozen of ’em, all of which looked delectably plump.
Watching those well-fed turkeys brought to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Jesus uses God’s provision for seemingly worthless birds to remind us of His care for us. If a bird’s life matters, how much more does ours? Jesus then contrasts fretting about our daily needs (vv. 27–31) with a life in which we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” (v. 33), a life in which we’re confident of His rich provision for our needs.
Because if God can care for that rafter of wild turkeys, He can certainly look after you and me.
The praise song drifted downstairs . . . at 6:33 on a Saturday morning. I didn’t think anyone was awake, but my youngest daughter’s scratchy voice proved me wrong. She was barely conscious, but there was already a song on her lips.
My youngest is a singer. In fact, she can’t not sing. She sings when she wakes up. When she goes to the school. When she goes to bed. She was born with a song in her heart—and most of the time, her songs focus on Jesus. She’ll praise God anytime, anywhere.
I love the simplicity, devotion, and earnestness of my daughter’s voice. Her spontaneous and joyful songs echo invitations to praise God found throughout Scripture. In Psalm 95, we read, “Come let us sing for joy to the L
For my daughter, those truths are her first thought in the morning. By God’s grace, this little worshipper offers us a profound reminder of the joy of singing to the Lord.
We were almost home when I noticed it: the needle of our car’s temperature gauge was rocketing up. As we pulled in, I killed the engine and hopped out. Smoke wafted from the hood. The engine sizzled like bacon. I backed the car up a few feet to find a puddle beneath: oil. Instantly, I knew: The head gasket had just blown.
I groaned. We’d just sunk money into other expensive repairs. Why can’t things just work?! I grumbled bitterly. Why can’t things just stop breaking?!
Can you relate? Sometimes we avert one crisis, solve one problem, pay off one big bill, only to face another. Sometimes, those troubles are much bigger than an engine self-destructing: an unexpected diagnosis, an untimely death, a terrible loss.
In those moments, we yearn for a world less broken, less full of trouble. That world, Jesus promised, is coming. But not yet: “In this world you will have trouble,” he reminded His disciples in John 16. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus spoke in that chapter about grave troubles, such as persecution for the faith. But such trouble, He taught, would never have the last word for those who hope in Him.
Troubles small and large may dog our days. But Jesus’ promise of a better tomorrow with Him encourages us not to let our troubles define our lives today.
I don't remember many specifics about my driver's education class. But for some reason, an acronym we learned, S-I-P-D-E, remains firmly lodged in my memory.
The letters stood for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, and Execute, a process we were taught to practice continually. We were to scan the road, identify hazards, predict what the hazards might do, decide how we'd respond, and then, if necessary, execute that plan. It was a strategy for being intentional to avoid accidents.
I wonder how that idea might translate to our spiritual lives. In Ephesians 5, Paul told Ephesian believers, “Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise, but as wise” (v. 15). Paul knew certain hazards could derail the Ephesians—old ways of living at odds with their new life in Christ (vv. 8,10–11). So he instructed the growing church to pay attention.
The words translated “be very careful, then, how you live” literally mean “see how you walk.” In other words, look around. Notice hazards, and avoid personal pitfalls like drunkenness and wild living (v. 18). Instead, the apostle said, we can seek to learn God’s will for our lives (v. 17), while, with fellow believers, we sing to and give Him thanks (vv. 19–20).
No matter what hazards we face—and even when we stumble—we can experience our new life in Christ as we grow in dependence on His boundless power and grace.
I’ve always had a collector's heart. As a kid, I collected stamps. Baseball cards. Comics. Now, as a parent, I see the same impulse in my kids. Sometimes I wonder, Do you really need another teddy bear?
Of course, it’s not about need. It’s about the allure of something new. Or sometimes the tantalizing draw of something old, something rare. Whatever captivates our imagination, we’re tempted to believe that if we only had “X,” our lives would be better. We’d be happy. Content.
Except, those things never deliver the goods. Why? Because God created us to be filled by Him, not by the created things that the world around us often insists will satisfy our longing hearts.
This tension is hardly new. Proverbs contrasts two ways of life: a life spent pursuing riches versus a life grounded in loving God and giving generously. In The Message, Eugene Petersen paraphrases Proverbs 11:28 like this: “A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.”
What a picture! Two ways of life: one flourishing and fruitful, one hollow and barren. The world insists that material abundance equals “the good life.” In contrast, God invites us to be rooted in Him, to experience His goodness and to flourish fruitfully. And as we’re shaped by our relationship with Him, God reshapes our hearts and desires, transforming us from the inside out.
“Everybody on the left, give me three strong forward strokes!” our whitewater raft guide shouted. Those on the left dug in, pulling our raft away from a churning vortex. For several hours, we'd learned the importance of listening to our guide's instructions. His steady voice enabled six people with little rafting experience to work together to plot the safest course down a raging river.
Life has its share of whitewater rapids, doesn't it? One moment, it's smooth sailing. Then, in a flash, we're paddling like mad to avoid suddenly swirling whirlpools. Those tense moments make us keenly aware of our need for a skilled guide, a trusted voice to help us navigate turbulent times.
In Psalm 32, God promises to be that voice: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go” (v. 8). Backing up, we see that confessing our sins (v. 5) and prayerfully seeking Him (v. 6) play a role in hearing Him too. Still, I take comfort in the fact that God promises, “I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (v. 8), a reminder that His guidance flows from His love. Near the end of the chapter, the psalmist concludes, “The L
And as we trust Him, we can rest in His promise to guide us through life's rockiest passages.
They just repaved this road, I thought to myself to as the traffic slowed. Now they're tearing it up again! Then I wondered, Why is road construction never done? I mean, I've never seen a sign proclaiming, "The paving company is finished. Please enjoy this perfect road."
But something similar is true in my spiritual life. Early in my faith, I imagined reaching a moment of maturity when I'd have it all figured out, when I'd be "smoothly paved." Thirty years later, I confess I'm still "under construction." Just like the perpetually potholed roads I drive. I never seem to be "finished," either. Sometimes that can feel equally frustrating.
But Hebrews 10 contains an amazing promise. Verse 14 says, "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Jesus's work on the cross has already saved us. Completely. Perfectly. In God's eyes, we are whole and finished. But paradoxically, that process isn't done yet while we're still on earth. We're still being shaped into His likeness, still "being made holy."
One day, we'll see Him face to face, and we shall be like him (1 John 3:3). But until then, we're still "under construction," people who anxiously await the glorious day when the work in us is truly complete.