When I moved to England, the American holiday of Thanksgiving became just another Thursday in November. Although I created a feast the weekend after, I longed to be with family and friends on the day. Yet I understood that my longings weren’t unique to me. We all yearn to be with people dear to us on special occasions and holidays. And even when we’re celebrating, we may miss someone who’s not with us or we may pray for our fractured family to be at peace.
During these times, praying and pondering the wisdom of the Bible has helped me, including one of King Solomon’s proverbs: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). In this proverb, one of the pithy sayings through which Solomon shared his wisdom, he notes the effect that “hope deferred” can have: the delay of something much longed for can result in angst and pain. But when the desire is fulfilled, it’s like a tree of life—something that allows us to feel refreshed and renewed.
Some of our hopes and desires might not be fulfilled right away, and some might only be met through God after we die. Whatever our longing, we can trust in Him, knowing He loves us unceasingly. And, one day, we’ll be reunited with loved ones as we feast with Him and give thanks to Him (see Revelation 19:6–9).
In the days of self-isolation and lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, words by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail rang true. Speaking about injustice, he remarked how he couldn’t sit idly in one city and not be concerned about what happens in another. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” he said, “tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”
Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our connectedness as around the world cities and countries closed to stop the spread of the virus. What affected one city could soon affect another.
Many centuries ago, God instructed His people how to show concern for others. Through Moses, He gave the Israelites the law as a way to guide them and help them live together. He told them to “not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life” (Leviticus 19:16); and to not seek revenge or bear a grudge against others, but to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18). God knew that communities would start to unravel if people didn’t look out for others, valuing their lives as much as they did their own.
We too can embrace the wisdom of God’s instructions. As we go about our daily activities, we can remember how interconnected we are with others as we ask Him how to love and serve them well.
Raised in a turbulent home in south London, Claud started selling marijuana at fifteen and heroin when he was twenty-five. Needing a cover for his activities, he became a mentor to young people. Soon he became intrigued by his manager, a believer in Jesus, and wanted to know more. After attending a course exploring the Christian faith, he “dared” Christ to come into his life. “I felt such a welcoming presence,” he said. “People saw a change in me instantly. I was the happiest drug dealer in the world!”
Jesus didn’t stop there. When Claud weighed up a bag of cocaine the next day, he thought, This is madness. I’m poisoning people! He realized he must stop selling drugs and get a job. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he turned off his phones and never went back.
This kind of change is what the apostle Paul referenced when he wrote to the church at Ephesus. Calling the people not to live separated from God, he urged them to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” and instead to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 24). The verb form Paul uses implies that we’re to put on the new self regularly.
As with Claud, the Holy Spirit delights to help us to live out of our new selves and become more like Christ.
English preacher F. B. Meyer (1847–1929) used the example of an egg to illustrate what he called “the deep philosophy of the indwelling Christ.” He noted how the fertilized yolk is a little “life germ” that grows more and more each day until the chick is formed in the shell. So too will Jesus come to live with us through His Holy Spirit, changing us: “from now on Christ is going to grow and increase and absorb into Himself everything else, and be formed in you.”
Meyer apologized for stating the truths of Jesus imperfectly, knowing that his words couldn’t fully convey the wonderful reality of Christ dwelling in believers through the Holy Spirit. But he urged his listeners to share with others, however imperfectly, what Jesus meant when He said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). Jesus said these words on the night of His last supper with His friends. He wanted them to know that He and His Father would come and make their home with those who obey Him (v. 23). This is possible because through the Spirit, Jesus dwells in His believers, changing them from the inside out.
No matter how you picture it, we have Christ living inside us, guiding us and helping us to grow more like Him.
Seeking to affirm some children who live on the streets in Mumbai, India, Ranjit created a song of their names. Coming up with a unique melody for each name, he taught them the tune, hoping to give them a positive memory related to what they’re called. For children who don’t regularly hear their name spoken in love, he bestowed on them a gift of respect.
Names are important in the Bible, often reflecting a person’s character traits or new role. For instance, God changed the names of Abram and Sarai when He made a covenant of love with them, promising that He would be their God and they would be His people. Abram, which means exalted father, became Abraham, which means father of many. And Sarai, which means princess, became Sarah, which means princess of many (see Genesis 17:5, 15).
God’s new names included the gracious promise that they would no longer be childless. When Sarah gave birth to their son, overjoyed, they named him Isaac, which means “he laughs”: “Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’” (Genesis 21:6).
We show honor and respect to people when we call them by name and affirm who God has created them to be. A loving nickname that affirms someone’s unique qualities as one created in the image of God can do the same.
At the end of a meal to mark Passover, a traditional Jewish holiday that celebrates and remembers the greatness of God’s saving work, church members expressed their joy by dancing together in a circle. Barry stood back, watching with a huge smile. He remarked how much he loved these occasions, saying, “This is my family now. This is my community. I’ve found somewhere where I know I can love and be loved . . . where I belong.”
In his childhood, Barry suffered cruel emotional and physical abuse, robbing him of his joy. But his local church welcomed him and introduced him to Jesus. Finding their unity and joy infectious, he began following Christ and felt loved and accepted.
In Psalm 133, King David used powerful images to illustrate the far-reaching effects of the “good and pleasant” unity of God’s people. He said it’s like someone who’s anointed with precious oil, the liquid running down over their collar (v. 2). This anointing was common in the ancient world, sometimes as a greeting when one entered a home. David also compared this unity to the dew that falls on the mountain bringing life and blessing (v. 3).
Oil releases a fragrance that fills a room and dew brings moisture to dry places. Unity too has good and pleasant effects such as welcoming those who were alone. Let’s seek to be united in Christ so that God can bring about good through us.
Annie Johnson Flint was crippled by severe arthritis just a few years after high school. She never walked again and relied on others to help care for her needs. Because of her poetry and hymns, she received many visitors, including a deaconess who felt discouraged about her own ministry. When the visitor returned home, she wrote to Annie, wondering why God allowed such hard things in her life.
In response, Annie sent a poem: “God hath not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through. . . .” She knew from experience that suffering often occurred, but that God would never abandon those He loves. Instead He promised to give “grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.” You may recognize that poem as the hymn “What God Hath Promised.”
Moses also suffered and faced strife, but He knew God’s presence was with him. When he passed his leadership of the Israelites to Joshua, he told the younger man to be strong and courageous, because “the
Disciples of Christ will face hardship and strife in this fallen world, but we have God’s Spirit to comfort and encourage us. He will never leave us.
In 1373, when Julian of Norwich was thirty years old, she became ill and nearly died. When her minister prayed with her, she experienced a number of visions in which she considered Jesus’ crucifixion. After miraculously recovering her health, she spent the next twenty years living in solitude in a side room of the church, praying over and thinking through the experience. She concluded that “love was his meaning”; that is, that Christ’s sacrifice is the supreme manifestation of God’s love.
Julian’s revelations are famous, but what people often overlook is the time and effort she spent prayerfully working out what God revealed to her. In those two decades she sought to discern what this experience of God’s presence meant as she asked Him for His wisdom and help.
As He did with Julian, God graciously reveals Himself to His people, such as through the words of the Bible; through His still, small voice; through a refrain of a hymn; or even just an awareness of His presence. When this happens, we can seek His wisdom and help. This wisdom is what King Solomon instructed his son to pursue, saying he should turn his ear to wisdom and apply his heart to understanding (Proverbs 2:2). Then he would “gain knowledge of God” (v. 5).
God promises to give us discernment and understanding. As we grow in a deeper knowledge of His character and ways, we can honor and understand Him more.
General Charles Gordon (1833–85) served Queen Victoria in China and elsewhere, but when living in England he’d give away 90 percent of his income. When he heard about a famine in Lancashire, he scratched off the inscription from a pure gold medal he’d received from a world leader and sent it up north, saying they should melt it down and use the money to buy bread for the poor. That day he wrote in his diary: “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus.”
General Gordon’s level of generosity might seem above and beyond what we’re able to extend, but God has always called His people to look out for those in need. In some of the laws He delivered through Moses, God instructed the people not to reap to the edges of their field nor to gather all of the crop. Instead, when harvesting a vineyard, He said to leave the grapes that had fallen “for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:10). God wanted His people to be aware of and provide for the vulnerable in their midst.
However generous we may feel, we can ask God to increase our desire to give to others and to seek His wisdom for creative ways to do so. He loves to help us show His love to others.