With the American Civil War spawning many bitter feelings, Abraham Lincoln saw fit to speak a kind word about the South. A shocked bystander asked how he could do so. He replied, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Reflecting on those words a century later, Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, “This is the power of redemptive love.”
In calling disciples of Christ to love their enemies, King looked to the teachings of Jesus. He noted that although believers might struggle to love those who persecute them, this love grows out of “a consistent and total surrender to God.” When we love in this way, King continued, we’ll know God and experience the beauty of His holiness.
King referenced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45). Jesus counseled against the conventional wisdom of the day of loving only one’s neighbors and hating one’s enemies. Instead, God the Father gives His children the strength to love those who oppose them.
It might feel impossible to love our enemies, but as we look to God for help, He’ll answer our prayers. He provides the courage to embrace this radical practice of His kingdom, for as Jesus said, “with God all things are possible” (19:26).
In a refugee camp in the Middle East, when Reza received a Bible, he came to know and believe in Jesus. His first prayer in Christ’s name was, “Use me as your worker.” Later, after he left the camp, God answered that prayer when he unexpectedly secured a job with a relief agency, returning to the camp to serve the people he knew and loved. He set up sports clubs, language classes, and legal advice—“anything that can give people hope.” He sees these programs as a way to serve others and to share God’s wisdom and love.
When reading his Bible, Reza felt an instant connection with the story of Joseph from Genesis. He noticed how God used Joseph to further His work while he was in prison. Because God was with Joseph, He showed him kindness and granted him favor. The prison warden put Joseph in charge and didn’t have to pay attention to matters there because God gave Joseph “success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23).
God promises to be with us too. Whether we’re facing imprisonment—literal or figurative—hardship, displacement, heartache, or sorrow, we can trust that God will never leave us. Just as He enabled Reza to serve those in the camp and Joseph to run the prison, He will stay close to us always.
One weekend in March, I led a retreat on the theme of Mary and Martha, the sisters in Bethany whom Jesus loved. We were in a remote spot along the English coastline. When we were snowed in unexpectedly, many of the participants remarked how the extra day together meant they could practice sitting at Jesus’s feet as Mary did. They wanted to pursue the “one thing . . . needed” (Luke 10:42 NKJV) that Jesus lovingly told Martha she should embrace, which was choosing to draw close and learn from Him.
When Jesus visited the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Martha wouldn’t have known He was coming in advance, so I can understand how she could have been upset with Mary for not helping with the preparations to feed Jesus and His friends. But she lost sight of what really mattered—receiving from Jesus as she learned from Him. Jesus wasn’t scolding her for wanting to serve Him but rather reminding her that she was missing the most important thing.
When interruptions make us irritable or we feel overwhelmed about the many things we want to accomplish, we can stop and remind ourselves about what really matters in life. As we slow ourselves down, picturing ourselves sitting at the feet of Jesus, we can ask Him to fill us with His love and life. We can revel in being His beloved disciple.
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.