Sometimes life deals us a tremendous blow. Other times the miraculous happens.
Three young men, captives in Babylon, stood in front of the fearsome king of that land and boldly proclaimed that under no circumstances would they worship the giant image of gold towering above them. Together they declared: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know . . . we will not . . . worship the image” (Daniel 3:16–18).
These three men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were hurled into the fiery furnace; and God miraculously delivered them so that not a hair of their head was singed and their clothing was smoke-free (vv. 19–27). They had been prepared to die but their trust in God was unwavering—“even if” He had not saved them.
God desires that we cling to Him—even if our loved one isn’t healed, even if we lose our job, even if we are persecuted. Sometimes God rescues us from danger in this life, and sometimes He doesn’t. But the truth we can hold firmly is this: “The God we serve is able,” loves us, and is with us in every fiery trial, every even if.
The little girl moved joyfully and gracefully to the music of praise. She was the only one in the aisle but that didn’t keep her from spinning and waving her arms and lifting her feet to the music. Her mother, a smile on her lips, didn’t try to stop her.
My heart lifted as I watched, and I longed to join her—but didn’t. I’d long ago lost the unselfconscious expression of joy and wonder of my childhood. Even though we are meant to grow and mature and put childish ways behind us, we were never meant to lose the joy and wonder, especially in our relationship with God.
When Jesus lived on Earth, He welcomed little children to Him and often referred to them in His teaching (Matthew 11:25; 18:3; 21:16). On one occasion, He rebuked His disciples for attempting to keep parents from bringing their children to Him for a blessing, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). Jesus was referring to the childlike characteristics that ready us to receive Christ—joy and wonder, but also simplicity, dependence, trust, and humility.
Childlike wonder and joy (and more) open our hearts to be more receptive to Him. He is waiting for us to run into His arms.
As a child, I looked forward to our church’s Sunday evening services. They were exciting. Sunday night often meant that we got to hear from missionaries and other guest speakers. Their messages inspired me because of their willingness to leave family and friends—and at times, homes, possessions, and careers—to go off to strange, unfamiliar, and sometimes dangerous places to serve God.
Like those missionaries, Elisha left many things behind to follow God (1 Kings 19:19–21). Before God called him into service through Elijah, we don’t know much about Elisha—except that he was a farmer. When the prophet Elijah met him in the field where he was plowing, he threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders (the symbol of his role as prophet) and called him to follow. With only a request to kiss his mother and father goodbye, Elisha immediately sacrificed his oxen, burned his plowing equipment, said good-bye to his parents—and followed Elijah.
Though not many of us are called to leave family and friends behind to serve God as fulltime missionaries, God wants all of us to follow Him and to “live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to [us], just as God has called [us]” (1 Corinthians 7:17). As I’ve learned, serving God can be thrilling and challenging no matter where we are—even if we never leave home.
My Facebook friends often post endearing videos of unlikely animal friendships, such as a recent video I watched of an inseparable pup and pig, another of a deer and cat, and yet another of an orangutan mothering several tiger cubs.
When I view such heartwarmingly unusual friendships, it reminds me of the description of the garden of Eden. In this setting, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God and each other. And because God gave them plants for food, I imagine even the animals lived peacefully together (Genesis 1:30). But this idyllic scene was disrupted when Adam and Eve sinned (3:21–23). Now in both human relationships and the creation, we see constant struggle and conflict.
Yet the prophet Isaiah reassures us that one day, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (11:6). Many interpret that future day as when Jesus comes again to reign. When He returns, there will be no more divisions and “no more death . . . or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). On that renewed earth, creation will be restored to its former harmony and people of every tribe, nation, and people will join together to worship God (7:9–10; 22:1–5)
Until then, God can help us to restore broken relationships and to develop new, unlikely friendships.
I’m fast approaching a new season—the “winter” of old age—but I’m not there yet! Even though the years are galloping by and sometimes I’d like to slow them down, I have joy that sustains me. Each day is a new day given me by the Lord! With the psalmist, I can say, “It is good to praise the
Even though my life has its struggles and the pain and difficulties of others sometimes overwhelms me, God enables me to join the psalmist in “[singing] for joy at what [His] hands have done” (v. 4). Joy for blessings given: family, friends, and satisfying work. Joy because of God’s wondrous creation and His inspired Word. Joy because Jesus loved us so much He died for our sins! And joy because He gave us the Spirit, the source of true joy (Romans 15:13). Because of the Lord, believers in Him can “flourish like a palm tree . . . [and] still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:12–14).
What fruit is that? No matter our circumstances or season of life, we can be examples of His love through the life we lead and the words we say. There is joy in knowing and living for the Lord and telling others about Him!
When my sister Maysel was little, she would sing a familiar melody in her own way: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells Maysel.” This irritated me to no end! As one of her older, “wiser” sisters, I knew the words were “me so,” not “Maysel.” Yet she persisted in singing it her way.
Now I think my sister had it right all along. The Bible does indeed tell Maysel, and all of us, that Jesus loves us. Over and over again we read that truth. Take, for example, the writings of the apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:7, 20). He tells us about God’s love in one of the best-known verses of the Bible: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John reinforces that message of love in 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Just as John knew Jesus loved him, we too can have that same assurance: Jesus does love us. The Bible tells us so.
Recently, we took our twenty-two-month-old granddaughter, Moriah, overnight for the first time without her older brothers. We lavished lots of loving, undivided attention on her, and had fun doing the things she likes to do. The next day after dropping her off, we said our goodbyes and headed out the door. As we did, without a word Moriah grabbed her overnight bag (still sitting by the door) and began following us.
The picture is etched in my memory: Moriah in her diaper and mismatched sandals ready to depart with Grandma and Grandpa again. Every time I think of it, I smile. She was eager to go with us, ready for more individualized time.
Although she is as yet unable to vocalize it, our granddaughter feels loved and valued. In a small way, our love for Moriah is a picture of the love God has for us, His children. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
When we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we become His children and begin to understand the lavish love He bestowed on us by dying for us (v. 16). Our desire becomes to please Him in what we say and do (v. 6)—and to love Him, eager to spend time with Him.
On the way to work, I listened to the song “Dear Younger Me,” which beautifully asks: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? As I listened, I thought about the bits of wisdom and warning I might give my younger, less-wise self. At some point in our lives, most of us have thought about how we might do things differently—if only we could do it all over again.
But the song illustrates that even though our past may fill us with regrets, all our experiences have shaped who we are. We can’t go back or change the consequences of our sin. But praise God we don’t have to carry the heavy burdens and mistakes of the past around with us.
Why? Because of what Jesus has done. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! (1 Peter 1:3).
If we turn to Him in faith and sorrow for our sins, He will forgive us. On that day we’re made brand new and begin the process of being spiritually transformed (1 Cor. 5:17) (is 2Cor). It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done), we are forgiven because of what He’s done. We can move forward, making the most of today and anticipating a future with Him. In Christ, we’re free!
Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.
I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.