When my husband and I were exploring a small, rugged corner of the state of Wyoming, I spied a sunflower in a rocky, dry place where sagebrush, nettles, prickly cactus, and other scraggly plants grew. It wasn’t as tall as the domestic sunflower, but it was just as bright—and I felt cheered.
This unexpected bright spot in rough terrain reminded me of how life, even for the Christian, can seem barren and cheerless. Troubles can seem insurmountable; and like the cries of the psalmist David, our prayers sometimes seem to go unheeded: “Hear me, L
But David goes on to declare that we serve a faithful, “compassionate and gracious God” who abounds in love for all who call on Him (vv. 5, 11, 15). He does answer (v. 7).
Sometimes in bleak places, God sends a sunflower—an encouraging word or note from a friend; a comforting verse or Bible passage; a beautiful sunrise—that helps us to move forward with a lighter step, with hope. Even as we await the day we experience God’s deliverance out of our difficulty, may we join the psalmist in proclaiming, “You are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God”! (v. 10).
After a young boy faced some challenges in school, his dad began to teach him a pledge to recite each morning before school: “I thank God for waking me up today. I am going to school so I can learn . . . and be the leader that God has created me to be.” The pledge is one way the father hopes to help his son apply himself and deal with life’s inevitable challenges.
In a way, by helping his son to commit this pledge to memory, the father is doing something similar to what God commanded the Israelites in the desert: “These commandments . . . are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7).
After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the next generation of Israelites was about to enter the Promised Land. God knew it would not be easy for them to succeed—unless they kept their focus on Him. And so, through Moses, He urged them to remember and be obedient to Him—and to help their children to know and love God by talking about His Word “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 7).
Each new day, we too can commit to allowing God’s Word to guide our hearts and minds as we live in gratitude to Him.
“I take care of him. When he’s happy, I’m happy,” says Stella. Merle replies, “I’m happy when she’s around.” Merle and Stella have been married for 79 years. When Merle was recently admitted to a nursing home, he was miserable—so Stella gladly brought him home. He’s 101, and she’s 95. Though she needs a walker to get around, she lovingly does what she can for her husband, such as preparing the food he likes. But she couldn’t do it on her own. Grandchildren and neighbors help with the things Stella can’t manage.
Stella and Merle’s life together is an example of Genesis 2, where God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (v. 18). None of the creatures God brought before Adam fit that description. Only in Eve, made from the rib of Adam, did Adam find a suitable helper and companion (vv. 19–24).
Eve was the perfect companion for Adam, and through them God instituted marriage. This was not only for the mutual aid of individuals but also to begin a family and to care for creation, which includes other people (1:28). From that first family came a community so that, whether married or single, old or young, none of us would be alone. As a community, God has given us the privilege of sharing “each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
On Memorial Day, I think of many former servicemen but especially my dad and uncles, who served in the military during World War II. They made it home, but in that war hundreds of thousands of families tragically lost loved ones in service to their country. Yet, when asked, my dad and most soldiers from that era would say they were willing to give up their lives to protect their loved ones and stand for what they believed to be right.
When someone dies in defense of their country, John 15:13—“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”—is often recited during the funeral service to honor their sacrifice. But what were the circumstances behind this verse?
When Jesus spoke those words to His disciples during the Last Supper, He was about to die. And, in fact, one of His small group of disciples, Judas, had already left to betray Him (13:18–30). Yet Jesus knew all of this and still chose to sacrifice His life for His friends and enemies.
Jesus was willing and ready to die for those who’d one day believe in Him, even for those who were still His enemies (Romans 5:10). In return, He asks His disciples (then and now) to “love each other” as He has loved them (John 15:12). His great love compels us to sacrificially love others—friend and foe alike.
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.