The news was grim.
My father had been having chest pains, so his doctor had ordered a test to peer into his heart. The result? Blockage in three arteries.
Triple-bypass surgery was scheduled for February 14. My dad, though anxious, saw that date as a hopeful sign: "I'm getting a new heart for Valentine's Day!" And he did! The surgery went perfectly, restoring life-giving blood flow to his struggling heart. A “new” heart. A second chance.
My father's surgery reminded me that God offers us a new life as well. Because sin clogs our spiritual "arteries"—our capacity to connect with God—we need spiritual "surgery" to clear them.
That's what God promised His people in Ezekiel 36:26. He assured the Israelites, "I will give you a new heart. . . I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." He also promised, "I will cleanse you from all your impurities" (v. 25) and "put my Spirit in you" (v. 27). To a people who'd lost hope, God promised a fresh start as the One who could renew their lives.
That promise was ultimately fulfilled through Jesus's death and resurrection. When we trust in Jesus, we receive a new spiritual heart, one that's cleansed of our sin and despair. Filled with Christ's Spirit, our new heart beats with the spiritual lifeblood of Jesus, that "we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4).
Are you kidding me? I was already late. But the road sign ahead instructed me to adjust my expectations: “Expect Delays," it announced. Traffic was slowing down.
I had to laugh: I expect things to work on my ideal timeline; I don’t expect road construction.
On a spiritual level, few of us plan for crises that slow us down or reroute our lives. Yet, if I’m paying attention, I can recall many times when circumstances redirected me—in big ways and small. Delays happen.
Solomon never saw a sign that said, “Expect Delays.” But in Proverbs 16, he does contrast our plans with God's providential guidance. The Message paraphrases verse one as follows: “Mortals make elaborate plans, but
How do I lose track of this spiritual truth? I make my plans, sometimes forgetting to ask God what His plans are. I get frustrated when interruptions interfere.
But in place of that fretting, we could, as Solomon teaches, grow in simply trusting that God guides us, step by step, as we seek prayerfully Him, await His leading, and—yes—allow Him to continually redirect us.
What determines our direction in life? I once heard an answer to that question in a surprising place: a motorcycle training course. Some friends and I wanted to ride, so we took a class to learn how. Part of our training dealt with something called target fixation.
“Eventually,” our instructor said, “you’re going to face an unexpected obstacle. If you stare at it—if you target fixate—you’ll steer right into it. But if you look above and past it to where you need to go, you can usually avoid it.” Then he added, “Where you’re looking is the direction you’re going to go.”`
That simple-but-profound principle applies to our spiritual lives too. When we “target fixate”—focusing on our problems or struggles—we almost automatically orient our lives around them.
However, Scripture encourages us to look past our problems to the One who can help us with them. In Psalm 121:1, we read, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” The psalm then answers: “My help comes from the L
Sometimes our obstacles can seem insurmountable. But God invites us to look to Him to help us see beyond our troubles instead of letting them dominate our perspective.
My favorite football team has lost eight consecutive games as I write this. With each loss, it’s harder to hope this season can be redeemed for them. The coach has made changes weekly, but they haven’t resulted in wins. Talking with my coworkers, I’ve joked that merely wanting a different outcome can’t guarantee it. “Hope is not a strategy,” I’ve quipped.
That’s true in football. But in our spiritual lives, it’s just the opposite. Not only is cultivating hope in God a strategy, but clinging to Him in faith and trust is the only strategy. This world often disappoints us, but hope can anchor us in God’s truth and power during the turbulent times.
Micah understood this reality. He was heartbroken by how Israel had turned away God. “What misery is mine! . . . The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains” (vv. 1–2). But then he refocused on his true hope: “But as for me, I watch in hope for the
What does it take to maintain hope in harsh times? Micah shows us: Watching. Waiting. Praying. Remembering—that God hears our cries even when our circumstances are overwhelming. In these moments, clinging to and acting in response to our hope in God is our strategy, the only strategy that will help us weather life’s storms.
I didn’t expect a profound lesson about the Father’s heart at the dentist’s office—but I got one. I was there with my ten-year-old son. He had an adult tooth coming in under a baby tooth that hadn’t fallen out yet. It had to come out. There was no other way.
My son, in tears, pleaded with me: “Dad, isn’t there another way? Can’t we just wait and see? Please, Dad, I don’t want to have this tooth pulled!” It just about broke my heart, but I told him, “Son, it’s got to come out. I’m sorry. There’s no other way.” And I held his hand as he wriggled and writhed while the dentist removed that stubborn molar, tears in my eyes, too. I couldn’t take his pain away; the best I could offer was to be present with him in it.
In that moment, I remembered Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asking His Father for a different way. How it must have broken the Father’s heart to see His beloved Son in such agony! Yet there was no other way to save His people.
In our lives, we sometimes face unavoidable yet painful moments—just like my son did. But because of Jesus’s work for us, through His Spirit, even in our darkest moments our loving heavenly Father is always present with us (Matthew 28:20)—just as I was present and holding my son’s hand that hard day.
The thorn pricked my index finger, drawing blood. I hollered and then groaned, drawing back my hand instinctively. But I shouldn’t have been surprised: trying to prune a thorny bush without gardening gloves was a recipe for exactly what just happened.
The pain throbbing in my finger—and the blood flowing from it—demanded attention. And as I searched for a Band-Aid, I found myself unexpectedly thinking about my Savior. After all, soldiers forced Jesus to don an entire crown of thorns (John 19:1–3). If one thorn hurt this much, I thought, how much agony would an entire crown of them inflict? And that just a small portion of the physical pain He suffered. A whip flogged his back. Nails penetrated His wrists and ankles. A spear pierced His side.
But Jesus endured spiritual pain too. Verse 5 of Isaiah 53 tells us, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him.” The "peace" Isaiah talks about here is another way of talking about forgiveness. Jesus allowed Himself to be pierced—by a sword, by nails, by a crown of thorns—to bring us spiritual peace with God. His sacrifice, His willingness to die on our behalf, paved the way to make a relationship with the Father possible. And He did it, Scripture tells us, for me. For you.
No one told me before my wife and I had children how important singing would be. My children are now six, eight, and ten. But all three had problems sleeping early on. Each night, my wife and I took turns rocking our little ones, praying they’d nod off quickly. I spent hundreds of hours rocking them, desperately crooning lullabies to (hopefully!) speed up the process. But as I sang over our children night after night, something amazing happened: It deepened my bond of love and delight for them in ways I had never dreamed.
Did you know Scripture describes our heavenly Father singing over His children too? Just as I sought to soothe my children with song, so Zephaniah concludes with a portrait of our heavenly Father singing over His people: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will . . . rejoice over you with singing” (3:17).
Much of Zephaniah’s prophetic book warns of a coming time of judgment for those who’d rejected God. But that’s not where it ends. Zephaniah concludes not with judgment but with a description of God, not only rescuing His people from all their suffering (vv. 19–20) but also tenderly loving and rejoicing over them with song (v. 17).
Our God is not only a “Mighty Warrior who saves” and restores (v. 17), but a loving Father who tenderly sings songs of love over us.
“We’re going this way,” I said as I touched my son’s shoulder and redirected him through the crowd to follow his mom and sisters in front of us. I’d done this more often as the day wore on at the amusement park our family was visiting. He was getting tired, so it didn’t take much to distract him. Why can’t he just follow them? I wondered.
Then it hit me: How often do I do exactly the same thing? How often do I veer from obediently walking with God, enchanted by the temptations to pursue what I want instead of seeking His ways?
Think of Isaiah’s words from the Lord for Israel: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ ” (Isaiah 30:21). Earlier in that chapter, God had rebuked His people for their rebelliousness. But if they would trust His strength instead of their own ways (v. 15), God promised to show His graciousness and compassion (v. 18).
One expression of God’s graciousness is His promise to guide us by His Spirit. That happens as we talk to Him about our desires and ask in prayer what He has for us. I’m thankful God patiently directs us, day-by-day, step-by-step, as we trust Him and listen for His voice.
It’s satisfying to finish a job. Each month, for instance, one of my job responsibilities gets moved from one category to another, from “In Progress” to “Completed.” I love clicking that “Completed” button. But last month when I clicked it, I thought, If only I could overcome rough spots in my faith so easily! It can seem like the Christian life is always in progress, never completed.
Then I remembered Hebrews 10:14. It describes how Christ's sacrifice redeems us totally. So in one important sense, that “completed button” has been pressed for us. Jesus’ death did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves: making us acceptable in God’s eyes when we place our faith in Him. It is finished, as Jesus Himself said (John 19:30). Paradoxically, even though His sacrifice is complete and total, we spend the rest of our lives living into that spiritual reality—“being made holy,” as Hebrews' author writes.
The fact that Jesus has finished something that’s still being worked out in our lives is hard to understand. When I’m struggling spiritually, it’s encouraging to remember that Jesus’ sacrifice for me—and for you—is complete . . . even if our living it out in this life is still a work in progress. Nothing can stop His intended end from being achieved eventually: being transformed into His likeness (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).