One day, when I was deeply concerned about the welfare of one close to me, I found encouragement in part of the Old Testament story of Samuel, a wise leader of the Israelites. As I read how Samuel interceded for God’s people as they faced trouble, I strengthened my resolve to pray for the one I loved.
The Israelites faced the threat of the Philistines, who had previously defeated them when God’s people didn’t trust in Him (see 1 Samuel 4). After repenting of their sins, they heard that the Philistines were about to attack. This time, however, they asked Samuel to continue praying for them (7:8), and the Lord answered clearly by throwing their enemy into confusion (v. 10). Though the Philistines may have been mightier than the Israelites, the Lord was the strongest of them all.
When we ache over the challenges facing those we love, and fear the situation won’t change, we may be tempted to believe that the Lord will not act. But we should never underestimate the power of prayer, for our loving God hears our pleas. We don’t know how He will move in response to our petitions, but we know that as our Father He longs for us to embrace His love and to trust in His faithfulness.
Do you have someone you can pray for today?
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left . . .” These hymn lyrics, written by the fifth-century Celtic Christian St. Patrick, echo in my mind when I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth. They feel like a warm embrace, reminding me that I’m never alone.
Matthew’s account tells us that God dwelling with His people is at the heart of Christmas. Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14), Matthew points to the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy—Jesus, the One born by the power of the Holy Spirit to be God with us. This truth is so central that Matthew begins and ends his gospel with it, concluding with Jesus’s words to His disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
St. Patrick’s lyrics remind me that Christ is with believers always through His Spirit living within. When I’m nervous or afraid, I can hold fast to His promises that He will never leave me. When I can’t fall asleep, I can ask Him to give me His peace. When I’m celebrating and filled with joy, I can thank Him for His gracious work in my life.
Jesus, Immanuel—God with us.
“How much longer until it’s Christmas?” When my children were little, they asked this question repeatedly. Although we used a daily Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, they still found the waiting excruciating.
We can easily recognize a child’s struggle with waiting, but we might underestimate the challenge it can involve for all of God’s people. Consider, for instance, those who received the message of the prophet Micah, who promised that out of Bethlehem would come a “ruler over Israel” (5:2) who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). The initial fulfillment of this prophecy came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1) —after the people had waited some 700 years. But some of the prophecy’s fulfillment is yet to come. For we wait in hope for the return of Jesus, when all of God’s people will “live securely” and “his greatness will reach the ends of the earth” (v. 4). Then we will rejoice greatly, for our long wait will be over.
Most of us don’t find waiting easy, but we can trust that God will honor His promises to be with us as we wait (28:20). For when Jesus was born in little Bethlehem, He ushered in life in all its fullness (see John 10:10)—life without condemnation. We enjoy His presence with us today while we eagerly wait for His return.
One day by the seaside, I delighted in watching some kite surfers as they bounced along the water, moved by the force of the wind. When one came to shore, I asked him if the experience was as difficult as it looked. “No,” he said, “It’s actually easier than regular surfing because you harness the power of the wind.”
Afterward as I walked by the sea, thinking about the wind’s ability not only to propel the surfers but also to whip my hair into my face, I paused to wonder at our God the Creator. As we see in the Old Testament book of Amos, He who “forms the mountains” and “creates the wind” can turn “dawn to darkness” (v. 13).
Through this prophet, the Lord reminded His people of His power as He called them back to Himself. Because they had not obeyed Him, He said He would reveal Himself to them (v. 13). Although we see His judgment here, we know from elsewhere in the Bible of His sacrificial love in sending His Son to save us (see John 3:16).
The power of the wind on this breezy day in the South of England reminded me of the sheer immensity of the Lord. If you feel the wind today, why not stop and ponder our all-powerful God?
As the lights dimmed and we prepared to watch Apollo 13, my friend said under his breath, “Shame they all died.” I watched the movie about the 1970 spaceflight with apprehension, waiting for tragedy to strike, and only near the closing credits did I realize I’d been duped. I hadn’t known or remembered the end of the true story—that although the astronauts faced many hardships, they made it home alive.
In Christ, we can know the end of the story—that we too will make it home alive. By that I mean we will live forever with our heavenly Father, as we see in the book of Revelation. The Lord will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) as He makes all things new (vv. 1, 5). In the new city, the Lord God will welcome His people to live with Him, without fear and without the night. We have hope in knowing the end of the story.
What difference does this make? It can transform times of extreme difficulty, such as when people face the loss of a loved one or even death themselves. Though we recoil at the thought of dying, yet we can embrace the joy of the promise of eternity. We long for the city where no longer will there be any curse, where we’ll live forever by God’s light (22:5).
When friends moved into a new home, they planted wisteria near their fence and looked forward to the lavender blossom that would appear after five years of growth. Over two decades they enjoyed this plant, carefully pruning and tending it. But suddenly the wisteria died, for their neighbors had poured some weed killer by the other side of the fence. The poison seeped into the wisteria’s roots and the tree perished—or so my friends thought. To their surprise, the following year some shoots came through the ground.
We see the image of trees flourishing and perishing when the prophet Jeremiah relates them to God’s people who either trust in the Lord or ignore His ways. Those who follow God will send their roots into soil near water and will bear fruit (v. 8), but those who follow their own hearts will be like a bush in the desert (vv. 5–6). The prophet yearns that God’s people would rely on the true and living God, that they would be “a tree planted by the water” (v. 8)..
We know the “Father is the Gardener” (John 15:1) and that in Him we can trust and have confidence (v. 7). May we follow Him with our whole heart as we bear fruit that lasts.
When a friend cared for her housebound mother-in-law, she asked her what she longed for the most. Her mother-in-law said, “For my feet to be washed.” My friend admitted, “How I hated that job! Each time she asked me to do it I was resentful, and would ask God to hide my feelings from her.”
But one day her grumbling attitude changed in a flash. As she got out the bowl and towel and knelt at her mother-in-law’s feet, she said, “I looked up, and for a moment I felt like I was washing the feet of Jesus Himself. She was Jesus in disguise!” After that, she felt honored to wash her mother-in-law’s feet.
When I heard this moving account, I thought of Jesus’s story about the end of time that He taught on the slopes of Mt. Olives. The King welcomes into His kingdom His sons and daughters, saying that when they visited the sick or fed the hungry, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40). We too serve Jesus Himself when we visit those in prison or give clothes to the needy.
Today, might you echo my friend, who now wonders when she meets someone new, “Are you Jesus in disguise?”
I sat in the hospital room with my husband, waiting anxiously. Our young son was having corrective eye surgery and I felt the butterflies jostle in my stomach as I fretted and worried. I tried to pray, asking God to give me His peace. As I leafed through my Bible, I thought about Isaiah 40, so I turned to the familiar passage, wondering if anything fresh would strike me.
As I read, I caught my breath, for the words from so many years ago reminded me that the Lord “tends his flock like a shepherd” as He “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (v. 11). In that moment my anxiety left me as I realized the Lord was holding us, leading us, and caring for us. “That was just what I needed, Lord,” I breathed silently. I felt enveloped in God’s peace during and after the surgery (which thankfully went well).
The Lord promised His people through the prophet Isaiah that He would be their shepherd, guiding them in their daily lives and giving them comfort. We too can know His gentle tending as we tell Him our anxious thoughts and seek His love and peace. We know that He is our Good Shepherd, holding us close to His heart and carrying us in His everlasting arms.
Betty’s daughter arrived home from an overseas trip, feeling unwell. When her pain became unbearable, Betty and her husband took her to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses set to work, and after a few hours one of the nurses said to Betty, “She’s going to be okay! We’re going to take good care of her and get her healed up.” In that moment, Betty felt peace and love flood over her. She realized that while she hovered over her daughter anxiously, the Lord is the perfect parent who nurtures His children, comforting them in difficult times.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord reminded His people how when they were wandering in the desert, He cared for them as a loving parent who hovers over its young. He never left them, but was like an eagle “that spreads its wings” to catch its children and “carries them aloft” (32:11). He wanted them to remember that although they experienced hardship and strife in the desert, He didn’t abandon them.
We too may face challenges of many kinds, but we can take comfort and courage in this reminder that our God will never leave us. When we feel that we are falling, the Lord like an eagle will spread His wings to catch us (v. 11) as He brings us peace.