When I was shopping for engagement rings I spent many hours looking for exactly the right diamond. I was plagued by the question, What if I miss the best one?
According to economic psychologist Barry Schwartz, my chronic indecision indicates that I am what Schwartz calls a "maximizer," in contrast to a "satisficer." A satisficer makes choices based on whether something is adequate for their needs. Maximizers? We (guilty!) have a need to always make the best choice. The potential outcome of our indecision in the face of many choices? Anxiety, depression, and discontent. In fact, sociologists have coined another phrase for this phenomenon: fear of missing out.
We won’t find the words maximizer or satisficer in Scripture, of course. But we do find a similar idea. In 1 Timothy, Paul challenged Timothy to find value in God rather than the things of this world. The world’s promises of fulfillment can never fully deliver. Paul wanted Timothy to instead root his identity in God: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6), Paul writes. He sounds like a satisficer when he adds, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (v. 8).
When I fixate on the myriad ways the world promises fulfillment, I usually end up restless and unsatisfied. But when I focus on God and relinquish my compulsive urge to maximize, my soul moves toward genuine contentment and rest.
Our family was planning to get a puppy, so my eleven-year-old daughter researched for months. She knew what the dog should eat and how to introduce it to our new home—among myriad other details.
Turns out puppies do best, she told me, if they’re introduced to one room at a time. So we carefully prepared a spare bedroom. I’m sure there will still be surprises as we raise our new puppy, but my daughter’s delight-infused preparation couldn’t have been more thorough.
The way my daughter channeled her eager anticipation for a puppy into loving preparation reminded me of Christ’s longing to share life with His people, and His promise to prepare a home for them. Nearing the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus urged His disciples to trust Him, saying, “You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Then He promised to “prepare a place for [them] . . . that you also may be where I am” (v. 3).
Trouble was coming. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He was at work to bring them home to Him.
I can’t help but delight in the careful, deliberate intent with which my daughter has prepared for our new puppy. But I can only imagine how much more our Savior is delighting in His own detailed preparation for each of His people to share eternal life with Him (John 14:2).
“ESCAPE” the hot-tub store billboard blared. It got my attention—and got me thinking. My wife and I talk about getting a hot tub . . . someday. It'd be like a vacation in our back yard! Except for the cleaning. And the electric bill. And . . . suddenly, the hoped-for escape starts to sound like something I might need escape from.
Still, that word entices so effectively because it promises something we want: relief. Comfort. Security. Escape. It’s something our culture tempts and teases us with in myriad ways. Now, there's nothing wrong with resting, or a getaway to someplace beautiful. That said, there’s a difference between escaping life’s hardships and trusting God with them.
In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples the next chapter of their lives will test their faith. “In this world you will have trouble,” He summarizes at the end. But then He adds this promise, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). Jesus didn’t want His disciples to cave in to despair. Instead, He invited them to trust Him, to know the rest that He provides: “I have told you these things,” he said, “so that in me you may have peace.”
Jesus doesn’t promise us a pain-free life. But He does promise that as we trust and rest in Him, we can experience a peace that’s deeper and more satisfying than any escape the world tries to sell us.
“I can’t believe Christmas is over,” my dejected daughter said.
I know how she feels: The aftermath of Christmas can feel dreary. Presents have been opened. The tree and lights must come down. Listless January—and, for many, the need to shed holiday pounds—awaits. Christmas—and the breathless anticipation that comes with it—suddenly feels eons away.
A few years ago, as we were putting Christmas stuff away, I realized, No matter what the calendar says, we’re always one day closer to the next Christmas. It’s become something I say frequently.
But far more important than our temporal celebration of Christmas is the spiritual reality behind it: the salvation Jesus brought into our world and our hope for His return. Scripture talks repeatedly about watching, waiting, and longing for Christ’s second coming. I love what Paul says in Philippians 3:15–21. He contrasts the world’s way of living—with “minds set on earthly things” (v. 19)—with a lifestyle shaped by hope in Jesus’ return: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).
The reality that our “citizenship is in heaven” changes everything, including what we hope for and how we live. That hope is fortified by the knowledge that with every passing day, we are indeed one day closer to Jesus’ return.
It started with a tickle in my throat. Uh oh, I thought. That tickle turned out to be influenza. And that was just the beginning of bronchial affliction. Influenza morphed into whooping cough—yes, that whooping cough—and that turned into pneumonia.
Eight weeks of torso-wracking coughing—it’s not called whooping cough for nothing—has left me humbled. I don’t think of myself as old. But I’m old enough to start thinking about heading that direction. A member of my church’s small group has a funny name for the health issues that assail us as we age: “the dwindles.” But there’s nothing funny about dwindling’s work “in action.”
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul, too, wrote—in his own way—about “the dwindles.” That chapter chronicles the persecution he and his team endured. Fulfilling his mission had taken a heavy toll: “Outwardly, we are wasting away,” he admitted. But even as his body failed—from age, persecution and harsh conditions—Paul held tightly to his sustaining hope: “Inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (v. 16). These “light and momentary troubles,” he insisted, can’t compare to what awaits: “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v. 17).
Even as I write tonight, the dwindles claw insistently at my chest. But I know that in my life and that of anyone who clings to Christ, they will not have the last word.
“Daddy, will you read to me?” my daughter asked. It’s not an unusual question for a child to make of a parent. But my daughter is eleven now. These days, such requests are fewer than they were when she was younger. “Yes,” I said happily, and she curled up next to me on the couch.
As I read to her (from The Fellowship of the Ring), she practically melted into me. It was one of those glorious moments as a parent, when we feel perhaps just an inkling of the perfect love our Father has for us and His deep desire for us to “cuddle in” to His presence and love for us.
I realized in that moment that I’m a lot like my eleven-year-old. Much of the time, I’m focused on being independent. It’s so easy to lose touch with God’s love for us, a tender and protective love that Psalm 116 describes as “gracious and righteous . . . full of compassion” (v. 5). It’s a love where, like my daughter, I can curl up in God’s lap, at home in His delight for me.
Psalm 116:7 suggests that we might need to regularly remind ourselves of God’s good love, and then crawl up into His waiting arms: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the L
In a TV commercial I saw recently, a woman casually asks someone in a group watching TV, “What are you searching for, Mark?” “A version of myself that doesn’t make decisions based on fear,” he responds soberly—not realizing that she was just asking what he liked to watch on TV!
Whoa, I thought. I wasn’t expecting a TV commercial to hit me so profoundly! But I related to poor Mark: sometimes I too feel embarrassed by the way fear sometimes seems to direct my life.
Jesus’ disciples also experienced the profound power of fear. Once, as they headed across the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35), “a furious squall came up” (v. 37). Terror gripped them, and they suggested that Jesus (who’d been sleeping!) might not care about them: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38).
Fear distorted the disciples’ vision, blinding them to Jesus’ good intentions for them. After Jesus rebuked the wind and waves (v. 39), He confronted the disciples with two penetrating questions: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40).
Storms rage in our lives as well, don’t they? But Jesus’ questions can help us put our fears in perspective. His first question invites us to name our fears. The second invites us to entrust those distorted feelings to Him—asking Him for eyes to see how He guides us even through life’s most raging storms.
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.