One spring after a particularly dreary winter during which she helped a family member through a long illness, Emma found encouragement each time she walked past a cherry tree near her home in Cambridge, England. Bursting out at the top of the pink blossoms grew blossoms of white. A clever gardener had grafted into the tree a branch of white flowers. When Emma passed the unusual tree, she thought of Jesus’s words about being the Vine and His followers the branches (John 15:1–8).
By calling Himself the Vine, Jesus was speaking of an image familiar to the Israelites in the Old Testament, for there the vine symbolized God’s people (Psalm 80:8–9; Hosea 10:1). Jesus extended this symbolism to Himself, saying He was the Vine and that His followers were grafted into Him as branches. And as they remained in Him, receiving His nourishment and strength, they would bear fruit (John 15:5).
As Emma supported her family member, she needed the reminder that she was connected to Jesus. Seeing the white flowers among the pink ones gave her a visual prompt of the truth that as she remained in the Vine, she gained nourishment through Him.
When we who follow Jesus embrace the idea of being as close to Him as a branch is to a vine, our faith is strengthened and enriched.
Stephen grew up in a rough part of East London and fell into crime by the age of ten. He said, “If everyone’s selling drugs and doing robberies and fraud, then you’re going to get involved. It’s just a way of life.” But when he was twenty, he had a dream that changed him: “I heard God saying, Stephen, you’re going to prison for murder.” This vivid dream served as a warning, and he turned to God and received Jesus as his Savior—and the Holy Spirit transformed his life.
Stephen set up an organization that teaches inner-city kids discipline, morality, and respect through sports. He credits God with the success he has seen as he prays with and trains the kids. “Rebuilding misguided dreams,” he says.
In pursuing God and leaving behind our past wrongdoing, we, like Stephen, follow Paul’s charge to the Ephesians to embrace a new way of life. Although our old self is “corrupted by its deceitful desires,” we can daily seek to “put on the new self” that is created to be like God (Ephesians 4:22, 24). All believers embrace this continual process as we ask God through His Holy Spirit to make us more like Him.
Stephen said, “Faith was a crucial foundation for me changing my life around.” How has this been true for you?
Those raised in the English village with William Carey (1761–1834) probably thought he wouldn’t accomplish much, but today he’s known as the father of modern missions. Born to parents who were weavers, he became a not-too successful teacher and cobbler while teaching himself Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. After many years, he realized his dream of becoming a missionary to India. But he faced hardship, including his child’s death, his wife’s mental-health problems, and for many years the lack of response from those he served.
What kept him serving amid difficulties so that he could go on to translate the entire Bible into six languages and parts of it into twenty-nine others? He said, “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit.” He committed to serving God no matter what trials he encountered.
This continued devotion to Christ is what the writer to the Hebrews counseled. He called for those reading his letter to not “become lazy” (Hebrews 6:12), but to “show this same diligence to the very end” (v. 11) as they sought to honor God. He reassured them that God “will not forget your work and the love you have shown” (v. 10).
When William Carey was old, he reflected on how God consistently supplied his needs. “He has never failed in His promise, so I cannot fail in my service to Him.” May God similarly empower us to serve Him day by day.
“What do you think about peace?” my friend asked as we ate lunch together. “Peace?” I said, puzzled. “I’m not sure—why do you ask?” He answered, “Well, as you jiggled your foot during the church service I wondered if you’re agitated about something. Have you considered the peace God gives to those who love Him?”
That day some years ago, I was a bit hurt by my friend’s question, but it started me on a journey. I began exploring the Bible to see how God’s people embraced this gift of well-being, of peace, even in the midst of hardship. As I read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I chewed over the apostle’s command to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:15).
Paul was writing to a church he’d never visited but had heard about from his friend Epaphras. He was concerned that as they encountered false teaching, they were losing the peace of Christ. But instead of admonishing them, Paul encouraged them to trust Jesus, who would give them assurance and hope (v. 15).
We all will encounter times when we can choose to embrace or refuse the rule of Christ’s peace in our hearts. As we turn to Him, asking Jesus to dwell in us, He will gently release us from the anxiety and cares that weigh us down. As we seek His peace, we trust that He will meet us with His love.
A Christian organization works to promote the healing nature of forgiveness. One of their activities involves a skit in which a person who has been wronged is strapped back to back with a rope to the wrongdoer. Only the one sinned against can untie the rope. No matter what she does, she’s got someone on her back. Without forgiveness—without untying the rope—she cannot escape.
Offering forgiveness to someone who comes to us in sorrow for their wrongdoing begins the process of releasing us and them from the bitterness and pain that can cling to us over wrongs we’ve suffered. In Genesis, we see two brothers separated for twenty years after Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. After this long time, God told Jacob to return to his homeland (Genesis 31:3). He obeyed, but nervously, sending ahead to Esau gifts of herds of animals (32:13–15). When the brothers met, Jacob bowed at Esau’s feet seven times in humility (33:3). Imagine his surprise when Esau ran and embraced him, both of them weeping over their reconciliation (33:4). No longer was Jacob held by the sin he committed against his brother.
Do you feel imprisoned by unforgiveness, saddled with anger, fear, or shame? Know that God through His Son and Spirit can release you when you seek His help. He will enable you to begin the process of untying any ropes and setting you free.
When Aaron (not his real name) was 15, he began praying to Satan: “I felt like he and I had a partnership.” Aaron started to lie, steal, and manipulate his family and friends. He also experienced nightmares: “I woke up one morning and saw the devil at the end of the bed. He told me that I was going to pass my exams and then die.” Yet when he finished his exams, he lived. Aaron reflected, “It was clear to me that he was a liar.”
Hoping to meet girls, Aaron went to a Christian festival, where a man offered to pray for him. “While he was praying, I felt a sense of peace flood my body.” He felt something “more powerful, and more liberating,” than what he felt from Satan. The man who prayed told Aaron God had a plan and Satan was a liar. This man echoed what Jesus said of Satan when He responded to some who opposed him: “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Aaron turned to Christ from Satanism and now “belongs to God” (v. 47). He ministers in an urban community, sharing the difference following Jesus makes. He is a living testament of God’s saving power: “I can say with confidence that God saved my life.”
God is the source of all that is good, holy, and true. We can turn to Him to find truth.
Hae Woo (not her real name) was imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp for crossing the border into China. The days and nights were torture, she said, with brutal guards, backbreaking work, and little sleep on an ice-cold floor with rats and lice. But God helped her daily, including showing her which prisoners to befriend and share her faith with.
After she was released from the camp and living in South Korea, Woo reflected on her time of imprisonment, saying that Psalm 23 summed up her experience. Although she had been trapped in a dark valley, Jesus was her shepherd who gave her peace: “Even though it felt as if I was literally in a valley full of the shadow of death, I wasn’t afraid of anything. God comforted me every day.” She experienced God’s goodness and love as He reassured her that she was His beloved daughter. “I was in a terrible place, but I knew . . . I would experience God’s goodness and love.” And she knew she’d stay in the Lord’s presence forever.
We can find encouragement in Woo’s story. Despite her dire circumstances, she felt God’s love and leading; and He sustained her and took away her fear. If we follow Jesus, He will lead us gently through our times of trouble. We need not fear, for “[we] will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (23:6).
A rare super moon appeared in November 2016—the moon in its orbit reached its closest point to the earth in over sixty years and so appeared bigger and brighter than at other times. But for me that day the skies were shrouded in gray. Although I saw photos of this wonder from friends in other places, as I gazed upwards I had to trust that the super moon was lurking behind the clouds.
The apostle Paul urged the church at Corinth, in the face of their hardships, to believe what is unseen but will last forever. He said how their “momentary troubles” achieve “an eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Thus they could fix their eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because what is unseen is eternal (v. 18). Paul yearned that the faith of those in Corinth would grow, and although they suffered, that they would trust in God. They might not be able to see Him, but they could believe that He was renewing them day by day (v. 16).
I thought about how God is unseen but eternal when I gazed at the clouds that day, knowing that the super moon was hidden but there. And I hoped the next time I was tempted to believe that God was far from me, I would fix my eyes on what is unseen.