The convention center darkened, and thousands of us university students bowed our heads as the speaker led us in a prayer of commitment. As he welcomed those to stand who felt called to serve in overseas missions, I could feel my friend Lynette leave her seat and knew she was promising to live and serve in the Philippines. Yet I felt no urge to stand. Seeing the needs in the United States, I wanted to share God’s love in my native land. But a decade later I would make my home in Britain, seeking to serve God among the people He gave me as my neighbors. My ideas about how I would live my life changed when I realized that God invited me on an adventure different from what I had anticipated.
Jesus often surprised those He met, including the fishermen He called to follow Him. When Christ gave them a new mission to fish for people, Peter and Andrew left their nets “at once” and followed Him (Matthew 4:20), and James and John “immediately” left their boat (v. 22). They set off on this new adventure with Jesus, trusting Him yet not knowing where they were going.
God, of course, calls many people to serve Him right where they are! Whether staying or going, we can all look to Him expectantly to surprise us with wonderful experiences and opportunities to live for Him in ways we might never have dreamed possible.
“You are like Moses, leading us out from slavery!” Jamila exclaimed. As a bonded brick-kiln worker in Pakistan, she and her family (and her parents before her) suffered because of the exorbitant amount they owed the kiln owner. Barely able to survive, they used much of their earnings just to pay off the interest. But when they received a gift from a nonprofit agency that released them from their debt, they felt tremendous relief. In thanking the agency’s representative for their freedom, Jamila, a Christian, pointed to the example of God’s release of Moses and the Israelites from slavery.
The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for hundreds of years, laboring under harsh conditions. They cried out to God, asking for help (Exodus 2:23). But their workload increased, for the new pharaoh ordered them not only to make bricks but also to gather the straw for these bricks (Exodus 5:6–8). When the Israelites again cried out against the oppression, God again promised to be their God (6:7). No longer would they be slaves, for He would redeem them with “an outstretched arm” (v. 6).
Under God’s direction, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (see Exodus 14). Today God still delivers us, for through the outstretched arms of His Son Jesus on the cross, we are set free from a far greater enslavement to the sin that once controlled us. We’re no longer slaves, but free!
Author Scot McKnight shares how when he was in high school, he had what he calls a “Spirit-drenched experience.” While at a camp, the speaker challenged him to enthrone Christ in his life by surrendering to the Spirit. Later, he sat under a tree and prayed, “Father, forgive me of my sins. And Holy Spirit, come inside and fill me.” Something mighty happened, he said. “From that moment my life has been completely different. Not perfect, but different.” He suddenly had the desire to read the Bible, pray, meet with other believers in Jesus, and serve God.
Before the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His friends: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised” (Acts 1:4). They would “receive power” to become His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). God gives the Holy Spirit to indwell everyone who believes in Jesus. This first happened at Pentecost (see Acts 2); today it occurs whenever someone trusts in Christ.
God’s Spirit also continues to fill those who believe in Jesus throughout our lives. We too, with the help of the Spirit, bear the fruit of changed character and desires (Galatians 5:22–23). Let’s praise and thank God for comforting us, convicting us, partnering with us, and loving us.
When Pastor Bob suffered an injury that affected his voice, he entered fifteen years of crisis and depression. What, he wondered, does a pastor do who can’t talk? He struggled with this question, pouring out his grief and confusion to God. He reflected, “I only knew one thing to do—to go after the Word of God.” As he spent time reading the Bible, his love for God grew: “I’ve devoted my life to absorbing and immersing myself in the Scripture because faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God.”
We find his phrase “faith comes from hearing” in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul longed for all of his fellow Jewish people to believe in Christ and be saved (Romans 10:9). How would they believe? Through the faith that “comes from hearing the message . . . through the word about Christ” (v. 17).
Pastor Bob seeks to receive and believe in Christ’s message, especially as he reads the Bible. He can only speak for an hour a day and has constant pain when he does so, but he continues to find peace and contentment from God through his immersion in Scripture. So too we can trust that Jesus will reveal Himself to us in our struggles. He will increase our faith as we hear His message, whatever challenges we face.
The memories flooded back when I rustled through some envelopes and glimpsed a sticker that said, “I’ve had an eye test.” In my mind I saw my four-year-old son proudly wearing the sticker after enduring stinging eyedrops. Because of weak eye muscles, he had to wear a patch for hours each day over his strong eye—thereby forcing the weaker eye to develop. He also needed surgery. He met these challenges one by one, looking to us as his parents for comfort and depending on God with childlike faith. Through these challenges he developed resilience.
People who endure trials and suffering are often changed by the experience. But the apostle Paul went further and said to “glory in our sufferings” because through them we develop perseverance. With perseverance comes character; and with character, hope (Romans 5:3–4). Paul certainly knew trials—not only shipwrecks but imprisonment for his faith. Yet he wrote to the believers in Rome that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). He recognized that God’s Spirit keeps our hope in Jesus alive when we put our trust in Him.
Whatever hardships you face, know that God will pour out His grace and mercy on you. He loves you.
Angela’s family reeled with sorrow as they experienced three bereavements in just four weeks. In one, after the sudden death of her nephew, Angela and her two sisters gathered around the kitchen table for three days, only leaving to buy an urn, get takeout, and attend the funeral. As they wept over the death of Mason, they also rejoiced over the ultrasound photos of the new life growing within their youngest sister.
In time, Angela found comfort and hope from the Old Testament book of Ezra. It describes God’s people returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed the temple and deported them from their beloved city (see Ezra 1). As Ezra watched the temple being rebuilt, he heard joyful praises to God (3:10–11). But he also listened to the weeping of those who remembered life before exile (v. 12).
One verse especially consoled Angela: “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise” (v. 13). She realized that even if she was drenched in deep sorrow, joy could still appear.
We too might grieve the death of a loved one or mourn a different loss. If so, we can express our cries of pain along with our moments of rejoicing to God, knowing that He hears us and gathers us in His arms.
Just days before Holy Week, when Christians around the world remember Jesus’s sacrifice and celebrate His resurrection, a terrorist stormed into a supermarket in southwest France opening fire and killing two. After negotiation, the terrorist released all but one hostage, whom he turned into a human shield. Knowing the danger, police officer Arnaud Beltrame did the unthinkable: He volunteered to take the woman’s place. The perpetrator released her, but in the ensuing scuffle Col. Beltrame was injured and later died.
A minister who knew the policeman attributed his heroism to his Christian faith, pointing to Jesus’s words in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Those were the words Jesus spoke to His disciples after their last meal together. He told His friends to “Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12) and that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for another (v. 13). This is exactly what Jesus did the next day, when He went to the cross to save us from our sin—as only He could.
We may never be called to follow the heroism of Col. Beltrame. But as we remain in God’s love, we can serve others sacrificially, laying down our own plans and desires as we seek to share the story of His great love.
When Andrew and his family went on safari in Kenya, they had the pleasure of watching a variety of animals frequenting a small lake that appeared in the scrabbly landscape. Giraffes, wildebeests, hippopotamuses, and waterfowl all traveled to this life-giving source of water. As Andrew observed their comings and goings, he thought how the “Bible is like a divine watering hole”—not only is it a source of guidance and wisdom but it’s a refreshing oasis where people from all walks of life can quench their thirst.
In his observation, Andrew echoed the psalmist who called people blessed when they delight in and meditate on God’s law, a term used in the Old Testament to describe His instruction and commandments. Those who turn over the Scriptures in their minds and hearts are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (Psalm 1:3). Just as a tree’s roots reach down into the soil to find the source of refreshing, people who truly believe in and love God will root themselves deeply in Scripture and find the strength they need.
Submitting ourselves to God’s wisdom will keep our foundations embedded in Him; we won’t be “like chaff that the wind blows away” (v. 4). When we ponder what God has given to us in the Bible, we gain nourishment that can lead to our bearing fruit that lasts.
Andrea’s home life was unstable, and she left at fourteen, finding a job and living with friends. Yearning for love and affirmation, she later moved in with a man who introduced her to drugs, which she added to the alcohol she already drank regularly. But the relationship and the substances didn’t satisfy her longings. She kept searching; and after several years she met some believers in Jesus who reached out to her, offering to pray with her. A few months later, she finally found the One who would quench her thirst for love—Jesus.
The Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus approached for water found her thirst satisfied too. She was there in the heat of the day (John 4:5–7), probably to avoid the stares and gossip of other women, who would have known her history of multiple husbands and current adulterous relationship (vv. 17–18). When Jesus approached her and asked her for a drink, he bucked the social conventions of the day, for He, as a Jewish teacher, would not normally have associated with a Samaritan woman. But He wanted to give her the gift of living water that would lead her to eternal life (v. 10). He wanted to satisfy her thirst.
When we receive Jesus as our Savior, we too drink of this living water. We can then share a cup with others as we invite them to follow Him.