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.
A Flourishing Tree
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.
Navigating Life’s Rapids
“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.
The Saddest Goose
Why is there a football in the parking lot? I wondered. But as I got closer, I realized the greyish lump wasn’t a football: it was a goose—the saddest Canada goose I’d ever seen.
Geese often congregate on the lawn near my workplace in the spring and fall. But today there was only one, its neck arced back and its head tucked beneath a wing. Where are your buddies? I thought. Poor thing was all alone. It looked so lonely, I wanted to give it a hug. (Note: don’t try this.)
I’ve rarely seen a goose completely alone like my lonesome feathered friend. Geese are notably communal, flying in a V-formation to deflect the wind. They’re made to be together.
As human beings, we were created for community too (see Genesis 2:18). And in Ecclesiastes 4:10, Solomon describes how vulnerable we are when we’re alone: "Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (4:10). There’s strength in numbers, he added, for “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (v. 12).
This is just as true for us spiritually as it is physically. God never intended for us to “fly” alone, vulnerably isolated. We need relationships with each other for encouragement, refreshment, and growth (see also 1 Corinthians 12:21).
Together, we can stand firm when life’s headwinds gust our way. Together.
Ever caught a dragon? I hadn’t until my son convinced me to download a trending game on my phone. Producing a digital map mirroring the real world, the game allows you to catch colorful creatures near you.
Unlike most mobile games, this one requires movement. Anywhere you go is part of the game’s playing field. The result? I’m doing a lot more walking! Anytime my son and I play, we strive to maximize every opportunity to nab the critters that pop up around us.
It’s easy to focus on, even obsess over, a game that’s crafted to captivate users. But as I was playing with my son recently, I was convicted with this question: Am I this intentional about maximizing the spiritual opportunities around me?
Paul knew the need to be alert to God’s work around us. In Colossians 4, he asked for prayer for an opportunity to share the gospel (v. 3). Then he challenged, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Paul didn’t want the Colossians to miss any chance of influencing others toward Christ. But doing so would require truly seeing them and their needs, then engaging in ways “full of grace” (v. 6).
In our world, far more things vie for our time and attention than a game’s imaginary dragons. But God invites us to navigate a real-world adventure, every day seeking opportunities to point to Him.
Technology today seems to demand our constant attention. The modern “miracle” of the internet (now easily accessible via the smartphone) gives us the amazing capacity to access humanity’s collective learning in the palm of our hand. But for many, such constant access can come at a cost.
Writer Linda Stone has coined the phrase "continual partial attention" to describe the modern impulse to always need to know what's happening 'out there,' to make sure we're not missing anything. If that sounds like it could produce chronic anxiety, you’re right!
Although the apostle Paul struggled with different reasons for anxiety, he knew that our souls are wired to find peace in God. Which is why, in a letter to new believers who'd endured persecution (1 Thessalonians 2:14), Paul concluded urging the believers to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (5:16–18).
Praying "continually" might seem pretty daunting. But then, how often do we check our phones? What if we instead let that urge be a prompt to talk to God? To say thank you, lift up a prayer request, or praise Him?
More importantly, what if we learned to exchange a need to always be in "the know" for continual, prayerful rest in God's presence? Through relying on Christ's Spirit, we can learn to give our heavenly Father our continual full attention as we make our way through each day.
The Leaning Tower
You’ve probably heard of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, but have you heard of the leaning tower of San Francisco? It’s called the Millennium Tower. Built in 2008, this 58-story skyscraper stands proudly—but slightly crookedly—in downtown San Francisco.
The problem? Its engineers didn’t dig a deep enough foundation. So now they’re being forced to retrofit the foundation with repairs that may cost more than the entire tower did when it was originally built—a fix that some believe is necessary to keep it from collapsing during an earthquake.
The painful lesson here? Foundations matter. When your foundation isn’t solid, catastrophe could ensue. Jesus taught something similar near the end of His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:24–27, He contrasts two builders, one who built on a rock, another on sand. When a storm inevitably came, only the house with a solid foundation was left standing.
What does this mean for us? Jesus is clear: our lives must be built through obedience and trust upon Him (v. 24). When we rest in Christ, our lives can find solid ground through God’s power and unending grace.
Jesus doesn’t promise us that we’ll never face storms. But He does say that when He is our rock, those storms and torrents will never wash away our faith-fortified foundation in Him.
Lord of the . . . Nails?
I was getting in my car when the glint caught my eye: a nail, embedded in my rear tire’s sidewall. I listened for the telltale whistle of air. Thankfully, the hole was plugged—at least for the moment.
As I drove to a tire store, I wondered: How long has that nail been there? Days? Weeks? I wondered: How long have I been protected from a threat I didn’t even know existed?
We can sometimes live under the illusion that we’re in control. But that nail reminded me: we’re not.
But when life feels out-of-control and unstable, we have a God whose reliability we can trust. In Psalm 18, David praises God for watching over him (Psalm 18:34–35). David confesses, “It is God who arms me with strength. . . . You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way” (vv. 32, 36). In this poem of praise, David celebrates God's sustaining presence (v. 35).
I personally don’t march into combat like David; I even go out of my way not to take unnecessary risks. Still, my life is often chaotic.
But I can rest in the knowledge that, though God doesn't promise us protection from all of life's difficulties, He always knows where I’m at. He knows where I’m going and what I’ll encounter. And He’s the Lord of it all—even the “nails” of our lives.