Two men remembered for serving others for Jesus left careers in the arts to commit themselves to where they believed God had called them. James O. Fraser (1886–1938) decided not to pursue being a concert pianist in England to serve the Lisu people in China, while the American Judson Van DeVenter (1855–1939) chose to become an evangelist instead of pursuing a career in art. He later wrote the hymn, “I Surrender All.”
While having a vocation in the arts is the perfect calling for many, these men believed God called them to relinquish one career for another. Perhaps they found inspiration from Jesus counseling the rich, young ruler to give up his possessions to follow Him (Mark 10:17–25). Witnessing the exchange, Peter exclaimed, “We have left everything to follow you!” (v. 28). Jesus assured him that God would give those who follow Him “a hundred times as much in this present age” and eternal life (v. 30). But He would give according to His wisdom: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 31).
No matter where God has placed us, we’re called to daily surrender our lives to Christ, obeying His gentle call to follow Him and serve Him with our talents and resources—whether in the home, office, community, or far from home. As we do, He’ll inspire us to love others, putting their needs above our own.
Early in his fifty-year ministry in Cambridge, England, Charles Simeon (1759–1836) met a neighboring pastor, Henry Venn, and his daughters. After the visit, the daughters remarked how harsh and self-assertive the young man seemed. In response, Venn asked his daughters to pick a peach from the trees. When they wondered why their father would want the unripe fruit, he responded, “Well, my dears, it is green now, and we must wait; but a little more sun, and a few more showers, and the peach will be ripe and sweet. So it is with Mr. Simeon.”
Over the years Simeon did soften through God’s transforming grace. One reason was his commitment to read the Bible and pray every day. A friend who stayed with him for a few months witnessed this practice and remarked, “Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength.”
Simeon in his daily time with God followed the prophet Jeremiah, who faithfully listened for God’s words. Jeremiah depended on them so much that he said, “When your words came, I ate them.” He mulled and chewed over God’s words, which were his “joy and heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16).
If we too resemble a sour green fruit, we can trust that God will help to soften us through His Spirit as we get to know Him through reading and obeying the Scriptures.
At seventeen, Dowayne had to leave his family’s home in Manenberg, a part of Cape Town, South Africa, because of his stealing and addiction to heroin. He didn’t go far, building a shack of corrugated metal in his mother’s backyard, which soon became known as the Casino, a place to use drugs. When he was nineteen, however, Dowayne came to saving faith in Jesus. His journey off drugs was long and exhausting, but he got clean with God’s help and with the support of his Christian friends. And ten years after Dowayne built the Casino, he and others turned the hut into a house church. What was once a dark and foreboding place now is a place of worship and prayer.
The leaders of this church look to Jeremiah 33 for how God can bring healing and restoration to people and places, as He’s done with Dowayne and the former Casino. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to God’s people in captivity, saying that although the city would not be spared, yet God would heal His people and would “rebuild them,” cleansing them from their sin (Jeremiah 33:7–8). Then the city would bring Him joy, renown, and honor (v. 9).
When we’re tempted to despair over the sin that brings heartbreak and brokenness, let’s continue to pray that God will bring healing and hope, even as He’s done in a backyard in Manenberg.
In the seventeenth century, Martin Rinkart served as a clergyman in Saxony, Germany, for more than thirty years during times of war and plague. One year he conducted over 4,000 funerals, including for his wife, and at times food was so scarce that his family went hungry. Although he could have despaired, his faith in God remained strong and he gave thanks continually. In fact, he poured his gratitude into “Nun danket alle Gott,” the song that became the well-loved English hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Rinkart followed the example of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed God’s people to give thanks at all times, including when they had disappointed God (Isaiah 12:1) or when enemies oppressed them. Even then they were to exalt God’s name, making “known among the nations what he has done” (v. 4).
We might give thanks easily during harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving, when we’re enjoying an abundant feast with friends and family. But can we express our gratitude to God in difficult times, such as when we’re missing someone from our table or when we’re struggling with our finances or when we’re locked in conflict with one close to us?
Let’s echo Pastor Rinkart, joining hearts and voices as we give praise and thanks to “the eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore.” We can “sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things” (v. 5).
When I moved to a new country, one of my first experiences left me feeling unwelcome. After finding a seat in the little church where my husband was preaching that day, a gruff older gentleman startled me when he said, “Move along down.” His wife apologized as she explained that I was sitting in the pew they always occupied. Years later I learned that congregations used to rent out pews, which raised money for the church and also ensured no one could take another person’s seat. Apparently some of that mentality carried on through the decades.
Later, I reflected on how the Lord instructed the Israelites to welcome foreigners, in contrast to cultural practices such as I encountered. In setting out the laws that would allow His people to flourish, the Lord reminded them to welcome foreigners because they themselves were once foreigners (Leviticus 19:34). Not only were they to treat strangers with kindness (v. 33) but they were also to “love them as [themselves]” (v. 34). God had rescued them from oppression in Egypt, giving them a home in a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). He expected His people to love others who also made their home there.
How could you welcome a stranger in your midst? As you consider this, ask God to reveal any cultural practices that might keep you from sharing His love to those you don’t yet know.
Thérèse of Lisieux was a joyful and carefree child—until her mother died when she was just four years old. She became timid and easily agitated. But many years later on Christmas Eve, all of that changed. After celebrating the birth of Jesus with her church community, she experienced God releasing her from her fear and giving her joy. She attributed the change to the power of God leaving heaven and becoming a man, Jesus, and through His dwelling in her.
What does it mean for Christ to dwell within us? It’s a mystery, said Paul to the Colossian church. It’s one that God “kept hidden for ages and generations” (Colossians 1:26), but which He disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God revealed “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v. 27). Because Christ now dwelled in the Colossians, they experienced the joy of new life. No longer were they enslaved to the old self of sin.
If we’ve asked Jesus to be our Savior, we too live out this mystery of His dwelling in us. Through His Spirit, He can release us from fear, as He did Thérèse, and grow within us the fruit of His Spirit, such as joy, peace, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).
As we celebrate His birth, let’s give thanks for the wonderful mystery of Christ within us.
After Charles Simeon (1759–1836) was named the minister of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, he faced years of opposition. As most in the congregation had wanted the associate minister to be appointed rather than Simeon, they spread rumors about him and rejected his ministry—even at times locking him out of the church. But Simeon, who desired to be filled by God’s Spirit, sought to cope with the gossip by creating some principles to live by. One was never to believe rumors unless they were absolutely true and another was “Always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter.”
In this practice, Simeon followed God’s instructions to His people to cease the gossip and malicious talk He knew would erode their love for each other. One of God’s Ten Commandments reflects His desire for them to live truthfully: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). A law that follows the ninth commandment in Exodus reinforces this instruction: “Do not spread false reports” (23:1).
Think of how different the world would be if each of us never spread rumors and false reports and if we stopped them the moment we heard them. May we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us speak the truth in love as we use our words to bring glory to God.
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom knew the importance of forgiveness. In her book Tramp for the Lord, she says her favorite mental picture was of forgiven sins thrown into the sea. “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. . . . I believe God then places a sign out there that says No Fishing Allowed.”
She points to an important truth that Christians can sometimes fail to grasp—when God forgives our wrongdoing, we are forgiven fully! We don’t have to keep dredging up our shameful deeds, wallowing in any mucky feelings. Rather we can accept His grace and forgiveness, following Him in freedom.
We see this idea of “no fishing allowed” in Psalm 130. The psalmist proclaims that although God is just, He forgives the sin of those who repent: “But with you there is forgiveness” (v. 4). As the psalmist waits for the Lord, putting his trust in Him (v. 5), he states in faith that God “himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (v. 8). Those who believe will find “full redemption” (v. 7).
When we’re caught in feelings of shame and unworthiness, we can’t serve God with our whole hearts. Instead, we’re restricted by our past. If you feel stymied by the wrong you’ve done, ask God to help you fully believe in His gift of forgiveness and new life. He has cast your sins into the ocean!