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.
“No! I didn’t do it!” Jane heard her teenage son’s denial with a sinking heart, for she knew he wasn’t telling the truth. She breathed a prayer asking God for help before asking Simon again what happened. He continued to deny he was lying, until finally she threw her hands up in exasperation. Saying she needed a time out, she began to walk away when she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard his apology. He responded to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, and repented.
In the Old Testament book of Joel, God called His people to true repentance for their sins as He welcomed them to return to Him wholeheartedly (2:12). God didn’t seek outward acts of remorse, but rather that they would soften their hard attitudes: “Rend your heart and not your garments.” Joel reminded the Israelites that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 13).
We might find confessing our wrongdoing difficult, for in our pride we don’t want to admit to our sins. Perhaps we’ve fudged the truth, and we justify our actions by saying it was only “a little white lie.” But when we heed God’s gentle but firm prompting to repent, He will forgive us and cleanse us from all of our sins (1 John 1:9). We can be free of guilt and shame, knowing we are forgiven.
As they sang praise songs together in the multi-generational worship service, many experienced joy and peace. But not a frazzled mother. As she jiggled her baby, who was on the verge of crying, she held the songbook for her five-year-old while trying to stop her toddler from running off. Then an older gentleman sitting behind her offered to walk the…
Ludmilla, a widow aged eighty-two, has declared her home in the Czech Republic: “Embassy of the Kingdom of Heaven,” saying, “My home is an extension of Christ’s kingdom.” She welcomes strangers and friends who are hurting and in need with loving hospitality, sometimes providing food and a place to sleep—always with a compassionate and prayerful spirit. Relying on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to help her care for her visitors, she delights in the ways God answers their prayers.
Ludmilla serves Jesus through opening her home and heart, in contrast to the prominent religious leader at whose home Jesus ate one Sabbath. Jesus told this teacher of the law that he should welcome “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to his home—and not those who could repay him (Luke 14:13). While Jesus’s remarks imply that the Pharisee hosted Jesus out of pride (v. 12), Ludmilla, so many years later, invites people to her home so she can be “an instrument of God’s love and His wisdom.”
Serving others with humility is one way we can be “representatives of the kingdom of heaven,” as Ludmilla says. Whether or not we can provide a bed for strangers, we can put the needs of others before our own in different and creative ways. How will we extend God’s kingdom in our part of the world today?
“Keep your hands behind your back. You’ll be fine.” That’s the loving admonition Jan’s husband always gave before she ventured off to speak to a group. When she found herself trying to impress people or seeking to control a situation, she’d adopt this posture because it put her in a teachable, listening frame of mind. She used it to remind herself to love those before her and to be humble and available to the Holy Spirit.
Jan’s understanding of humility is rooted in King David’s observation that everything comes from God. As David said to God, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). David learned to trust God and seek His counsel: “Even at night my heart instructs me” (v. 7). He knew that with God next to him, he’d not be shaken (v. 8). He didn’t need to puff himself up because he trusted in the mighty God who loved him.
As we look to God each day, asking Him to help us when we feel frustrated or to give us words to speak when we feel tongue-tied, we’ll see Him at work in our lives. We’ll “partner with God,” as Jan says; and we’ll realize that if we’ve done well, it’s because God has helped us flourish.
We can look at others with love, our hands clasped behind our backs in a posture of humility to remind us that everything we have comes from God.
Michellan faced challenges while growing up in the Philippines, but she always loved words and found comfort in them. Then one day while attending university, she read the first chapter in the gospel of John. She said that her “stone heart stirred,” and she felt like someone was saying, “Yes, you love words, and guess what? There is an Eternal Word, One who . . . can cut through the darkness, now and always. A Word who took on flesh. A Word who can love you back.”
She was reading the gospel that begins with words that would have reminded John’s readers of the opening of Genesis: “In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1:1). He sought to show that Jesus was not only with God at the beginning of time but was God (John 1:1). And that this living Word became a man “and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14). Further, those who receive Him, believing in His name, become His children (v. 12).
Michellan embraced God’s love that day and was “born of God” (v. 13). She credits God for saving her from her family’s pattern of addiction and now writes about the good news of Jesus, delighting in sharing her words about the living Word.
If we are believers in Christ, we too can share God’s message and His love. As we begin 2022, what grace-filled words can we speak today?
When John’s cold turned into pneumonia, he ended up in the hospital. At the same time, his mother was being treated for cancer a few floors above him, and he felt overwhelmed with worries about her and about his own health. Then on Christmas Eve, when the radio played the carol “O Holy Night,” John was flooded with a deep sense of God’s peace. He listened to the words about it being the night of the dear Savior’s birth: “A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” In that moment, his worries about himself and his mother vanished.
This “dear Savior” born to us, Jesus, is the “Prince of Peace,” as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He came to earth as a baby, bringing light and salvation to “those living in the land of the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 9:2). He embodies and gives peace to those He loves, even when they face hardship and death.
There in the hospital, John experienced this peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) as he pondered the birth of Jesus. This encounter with God strengthened his faith and sense of gratitude as he lay in that sterile room away from his family at Christmas. May we too receive God’s gift of peace and hope.
We came together for our Sunday morning church service with joy and anticipation. Although we were spatially distanced because of the coronavirus pandemic, we welcomed the opportunity to celebrate Gavin and Tijana’s wedding. Our technologically gifted Iranian friends broadcast the service to friends and family spread out geographically—including in Spain, Poland, and Serbia. This creative approach helped us overcome the constraints as we rejoiced in the covenant of marriage. God’s Spirit united us and gave us joy.
That Sunday morning with our wonderfully multinational congregation was a small taste of the glory to come when people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before God in heaven (Revelation 7:9). The beloved disciple John glimpsed this “great multitude” in a vision he recounts in the book of Revelation. There those gathered will worship God together along with the angels and elders, all giving praise: “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever” (v. 12).
The union and marriage of Jesus and His international bride in the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9) will be an amazing time of worship and celebration. Our experience on that Sunday with people from many nations points to this event that one day we’ll enjoy.
While we wait in hope for that joyful event, we can embrace the practice of feasting and rejoicing among God’s people.