A Refreshing Oasis
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.
Water of Life
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.
The Good Shepherd
When Pastor Warren heard that a man in his church had deserted his wife and family, he asked God to help him meet the man as if by accident so they could chat. And He did! When Warren walked into a restaurant, he spotted the gentleman in a nearby booth. “Got some room for another hungry man?” he asked, and soon they were sharing deeply and praying together.
As a pastor, Warren was acting as a shepherd for those in his church community, even as God through the prophet Ezekiel said He would tend His flock. God promised to look after His scattered sheep, rescuing them and gathering them together (Ezekiel 34:12–13). He would “tend them in a good pasture” and “search for the lost and bring back the strays” (vv. 14–16); He would “bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (v. 16). God’s love for His people reverberates through each of these images. Though Ezekiel’s words anticipate God’s future actions, they reflect the eternal heart of the God and Shepherd who would one day reveal Himself in Jesus.
No matter our situation, God reaches out to each of us, seeking to rescue us and sheltering us in a rich pasture. He longs for us to follow the Good Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep (see John 10:14–15).
Out of the Lions’ Den
When Taher and his wife, Donya, became believers in Jesus, they knew they risked persecution in their home country. Indeed, one day Taher was blindfolded, handcuffed, imprisoned, and charged with apostasy. Before he appeared at trial, he and Donya agreed that they wouldn’t betray Jesus.
What happened at the sentencing amazed him. The judge said, “I don’t know why, but I want to take you out of the whale’s and lion’s mouth.” With that, Taher “knew that God was acting”; he couldn’t otherwise explain the judge referencing two key passages in the Bible. Taher was released from prison and the family later found exile elsewhere.
Taher’s surprising release echoes the story of Daniel surviving the lion’s den (Daniel 6). A skilled administrator, he was going to be promoted, which made his colleagues jealous (vv. 3–5). Plotting his downfall, they convinced King Darius to pass a law against praying to anyone other than the king—which Daniel ignored. King Darius had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions (v. 16). But God “rescued Daniel” and saved him from death (v. 27), even as He saved Taher through the judge’s surprising release.
Many believers today suffer for following Jesus, and sometimes they even are killed. Whether we face this kind of persecution or not, we can deepen our faith when we understand that God has ways and means we can’t even imagine. Know that He’s with you in whatever battles you face.
Friends for Life
William Cowper (1731–1800), the English poet, found a friend in his pastor, John Newton (1725–1807), the former slave trader. Cowper suffered from depression and anxiety, attempting to die by suicide more than once. When Newton visited him, they’d go on long walks together and talk about God. Thinking that Cowper would benefit from engaging creatively and having a reason to write his poetry, the minister had the idea to compile a hymnal. Cowper contributed many songs, including “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” When Newton moved to another church, he and Cowper remained strong friends and corresponded regularly for the rest of Cowper’s life.
I see parallels between the strong friendship of Cowper and Newton with that of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. After David defeated Goliath, “Jonathan became one in spirit with David,” loving him as himself (1 Samuel 18:1). Although Jonathan was the son of King Saul, he defended David against the king’s jealousy and anger, asking his father why David should be put to death. In response, “Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him” (1 Samuel 20:33). Jonathan dodged the weapon and was grieved at this shameful treatment of his friend (v. 34).
For both sets of friends, their bond was life-giving as they spurred on each other to serve and love God. How might you similarly encourage a friend today?
Hopes and Longings
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).
Loving Our Neighbors
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.
The Indwelling 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.