In 1948, Harlan Popov, the pastor of an underground church, was taken from his home for a “little questioning.” Two weeks later, he received around-the-clock interrogation and no food for ten days. Each time he denied being a spy, he was beaten. Popov not only survived his harsh treatment but also led fellow prisoners to Christ. Finally, eleven years later, he was released and continued to share his faith until, two years later, he was able to leave the country and be reunited with his family. He spent the following years preaching and raising money to distribute Bibles in closed countries.
Like countless Christians throughout the ages, Popov was persecuted because of his faith. Jesus, long before His own torture and death and the subsequent persecution of His followers, said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:9). He continued, “Blessed are you when people . . . persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 10).
“Blessed”? What could Jesus have meant? He was referring to the wholeness, joy, and comfort found in a relationship with Him (vv. 4, 8–10). Popov persevered because He felt the presence of God “infusing strength” into him, even in suffering. When we walk with God, in joy and peace, we too can experience His peace. He is with us.
The little boy excitedly ripped open a big box from his serviceman daddy, whom he believed wouldn’t be home to celebrate his birthday. Inside that box was yet another giftwrapped box, and inside that box was another that simply held a piece of paper saying, “Surprise!” Confused, the boy looked up—just as his dad entered the room. Tearfully the son leapt into his father’s arms, exclaiming, “Daddy, I missed you” and “I love you!”
That tearful yet joyful reunion captures for me the heart of Revelation 21’s description of the glorious moment when God’s children see their loving Father face to face—in the fully renewed and restored creation. There, “[God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.” No longer will we experience pain or sorrow, because we’ll be with our heavenly Father. As the “loud voice” in Revelation 21 declares, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them” (vv. 3–4).
There’s a tender love and joy that followers of Jesus already enjoy with God, as 1 Peter 1:8 describes: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Yet imagine our incredible, overflowing joy when we see the one we’ve loved and longed for welcoming us into His open arms!
When Jeff was a new believer in Jesus and fresh out of college, he worked for a major oil company. In his role as a salesman, he traveled; and in his travels he heard people’s stories—many of them heartbreaking. He realized that what his customers most needed wasn’t oil, but compassion. They needed God. This led Jeff to attend seminary to learn more about the heart of God and eventually to become a pastor.
Jeff’s compassion had its source in Jesus. In Matthew 9:27–10:8 we get a glimpse of Jesus’s compassion in the miraculous healing of two blind men and one demon-possessed man. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus went about preaching the gospel and healing “throughout all the cities and villages” (9:35). Why? “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36).
The world today is still full of troubled and hurting people who need the Savior’s gentle care. Like a shepherd who leads, protects, and cares for His sheep, Jesus extends His compassion to all who come to Him (11:28). No matter where we are in life and what we’re experiencing, in Him we find a heart overflowing with tenderness and care. And when we’ve been a beneficiary of God’s loving compassion, we can’t help but want to extend it to others.
Tom and Mark’s ministry refreshes lives. This is clear in the video they share of a group of fully clad children laughing and dancing in the refreshing water of an open shower—their first ever. The men work with indigenous churches to install water filtration systems on wells in Haiti, easing and lengthening lives as diseases connected to contaminated water are prevented. Access to clean, fresh water gives the people hope for their future.
Jesus referred to “Living Water” in John 4 to capture a similar idea of a continual source of refreshment. Tired and thirsty, Jesus had asked a Samaritan woman for a drink (vv. 4–8). This request led to a conversation in which Jesus offered the woman “living water” (vv. 9–15)—“water” that would become a source of life and hope within them, like “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14).
We discover what this living water is later in John, when Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink,” declaring that whoever believed in Him would have “rivers of living water [flowing] from within them.” John explains, “By this he meant the Spirit” (7:37–39).
Through the Spirit, believers are united to Christ and have access to the boundless power, hope, and joy found in God (Romans 5:5). Like living water, the Spirit lives inside believers, refreshing and renewing us.
In middle school, I had a “sometimes friend.” We were “buddies” at our small church (where I was nearly the only girl her age), and we occasionally hung out together outside of school. But in school, it was a different story. If she met me by herself, she might say hello; but only if no one else was around. Realizing this, I rarely tried to gain her attention within school walls. I knew the limits of our friendship.
We’ve probably all experienced the pain of disappointingly one-sided or narrow friendships. But there’s another kind of friendship—one that extends beyond all boundaries. It’s the kind of friendship we have with kindred spirits who are committed to sharing life’s journey with us.
David and Jonathan were such friends. Jonathan was “one in spirit” with David and loved him “as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1–3). Although Jonathan would have been next in line to rule after his father Saul’s death, he was loyal to David, God’s chosen replacement. Jonathan even helped David to evade two of Saul’s plots to kill him (19:1–6; 20:1–42).
Despite all odds, Jonathan and David remained friends—pointing to the truth of Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times.” Their loyal and faithful friendship also gives us a glimpse of the loving relationship God has with us (John 3:16; 15:15). Through friendships like theirs, our understanding of God’s love is deepened.
Ali was a beautiful, smart, and talented teenager with loving parents. But after high school something prompted her to try heroin. Her parents noticed changes in her and sent her to a rehabilitation facility after Ali eventually admitted the impact it was having on her. After treatment, they asked what she would tell her friends about trying drugs. Her advice: “Just turn and run.” She urged that “just saying no” wasn’t enough.
Tragically, Ali relapsed and died at age twenty-two of an overdose. In an attempt to keep others from the same fate, her heartbroken parents appeared on a local news program entreating listeners to “run for Ali” by staying far from situations where they could be exposed to drugs and other dangers.
The apostle Paul urged his spiritual son Timothy (and us) to run from evil (2 Timothy 2:22), and the apostle Peter likewise warned, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
None of us are immune to temptation. And often the best thing to do is to steer clear of such situations where we’ll be tempted—though they can’t always be avoided. But we can be better prepared by having a strong faith in God based in the Bible and strengthened through prayer. When we “[stand] firm in the faith” we will know when to turn and run to Him.
Long before the decisive moment when Billy Graham came to faith in Christ at age sixteen, his parents’ devotion to Christ was evident. They’d both come to faith while growing up within a Christian family. After their marriage, Billy’s parents continued that legacy by lovingly nurturing their children, including praying and reading Scripture and attending church faithfully with them. The solid foundation Graham’s parents laid for Billy was part of the soil God used to bring him to faith and, eventually, to his calling as a bold evangelist.
The apostle Paul’s young protégée Timothy also benefited from a strong spiritual foundation. Paul wrote, “Your sincere faith . . . first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice” (2 Timothy 1:5). This legacy helped prepare and steer Timothy’s heart toward faith in Christ.
Now Paul urged Timothy to carry on this faith tradition (v. 5), to “fan into flame the gift of God” within him through the Holy Spirit, who “gives us power” (vv. 6–7). Because of the power of the Spirit, Timothy could fearlessly live for the gospel (v. 8). A strong spiritual legacy doesn’t guarantee we’ll come to faith, but the example and mentoring of others can help prepare the way. And after we receive Christ, the Spirit will guide us in service, in living for Him, and even in nurturing the faith of others.
Bobby’s sudden death brought home to me the stark reality of death and the brevity of life. My childhood friend was only twenty-four when a tragic accident on an icy road claimed her life. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, she had recently seemed to be moving forward. Just a new Christian, how could her life end so soon?
Sometimes life seems far too short and full of sorrow. In Psalm 39 the psalmist David bemoans his own suffering and exclaims: “Show me,
And yet, with David, we can say, “My hope is in [the Lord]” (v. 7). We can trust that our lives do have meaning. Though our bodies waste away, as Christians we have confidence that “inwardly we are being renewed day by day”—and one day we’ll enjoy eternal life with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1). We know this because God “has given us the Spirit . . . guaranteeing what is to come”! (5:5).
“Skinny bones, skinny bones,” the boy taunted. “Stick,” another chimed. In return, I could have chanted “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But even as a little girl, I knew the popular rhyme wasn’t true. Unkind, thoughtless words did hurt—sometimes badly, leaving wounds that went deeper and lasted much longer than a welt from a stone or stick.
Hannah certainly knew the sting of thoughtless words. Her husband Elkanah loved her, but she had no children, while his second wife, Peninnah, had many. In a culture where a woman’s worth was often assessed based on having children, Peninnah made Hannah’s pain worse by continually “provoking her” for being childless. She kept it up until Hannah wept and couldn’t eat (1 Samuel 1:6–7).
And Elkanah probably meant well, but his thoughtless response, “Hannah, why are you weeping? . . . Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (v. 8) was still hurtful.
Like Hannah, many of us have been left reeling in the wake of hurtful words. And some of us have likely reacted to our own wounds by lashing out and harming others with our words. But all of us can run to our loving and compassionate God for strength and healing (Psalm 27:5, 12–14). He lovingly rejoices over us—speaking words of love and grace (Zephaniah 3:17). Alyson Kieda