The Word and a New Year
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?
The Prince of Peace
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.
A Great Multitude
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.
Sing Praise to God
The heat and humidity of the Midwestern summer closed in on us all week at the discipleship conference, but on the last day we welcomed a front of cooler air. Giving thanks for the break in weather and the amazing work God had done, hundreds joined voices to worship God. Many felt liberated to sing wholeheartedly before God, offering our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds to Him. As I think back to that day decades later, I’m reminded of the pure wonder and joy of praising God.
King David knew how to wholeheartedly worship God. He rejoiced when the ark of the covenant, which signified God’s presence, was placed in Jerusalem—by dancing, leaping, and celebrating (1 Chronicles 15:29). Even though his wife Michal observed his abandon and “despised him in her heart” (v. 29), David didn’t let her criticism stop him from worshiping the one true God. Even if he appeared undignified, he wanted to give thanks to the Lord for choosing him to lead the nation (see 2 Samuel 6:21–22).
David “appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the
God’s Plans for You
For six years, a woman tried to make herself the “perfect minister’s wife,” modeling herself after her adored mother-in-law (also a pastor’s wife). She thought that in this role she couldn’t also be a writer and painter, but in burying her creativity she became depressed and contemplated suicide. Only the help of a neighboring pastor moved her out of the darkness as he prayed with her and assigned her two hours of writing each morning. This awakened her to what she called her “sealed orders”—the calling God had given her. She wrote, “For me to be really myself—my complete self—every . . . flow of creativity that God had given me had to find its channel.”
Later, she pointed to one of David’s songs that expressed how she found her calling: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). As she committed her way to God, trusting Him to lead and guide her (v. 5), He made a way for her not only to write and paint but to help others to better communicate with Him.
God has a set of “sealed orders” for each of us, not only that we’ll know we’re His beloved children but understand the unique ways we can serve Him through our gifts and passions. He’ll lead us as we trust and delight in Him.
Resting Secure in God
I wrote a letter to our children as each became a teenager. In one I talked about our identity in Christ, remembering that when I was a teenager, I felt unsure of myself, lacking confidence. I had to learn that I was God’s beloved—His child. I said in the letter, “Knowing who you are comes down to knowing Whose you are.” For when we understand that God has created us and we commit to following Him, we can be at peace with who He has made us to be. And we also know that He changes us to be more like Him each day.
A foundational passage from Scripture about our identity as God’s children is Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the
Knowing this identity is important equally for everyone—teenagers, those in the middle of life, and those who have lived a long time. When we understand that God created us and watches over us, we can find security, hope, and love.
Shortly after Dwight Moody (1837–99) came to faith in Christ, the evangelist resolved not to let a day pass without sharing God’s good news with at least one person. On busy days, he’d sometimes forget his resolution until late. One night, he was in bed before he remembered. As he stepped outside, he thought, No one will be out in this pouring rain. Just then he saw a man walking down the street. Moody rushed over and asked to stand under his umbrella to avoid the rain. When granted permission, he asked, “Have you any shelter in the time of storm? Could I tell you about Jesus?”
Moody embodied a readiness to share how God saves us from the consequences of our sins. He obeyed God’s instructions to the Israelites to proclaim His name and “make known among the nations what he has done” (Isaiah 12:4). Not only were God’s people called to “proclaim that his name is exalted” (v. 4) but they were also to share how the
Perhaps we heard about God’s love when, as Moody did, someone left their comfort zone to talk with us about Jesus. And we too, each in our own way, can let someone know about the One who saves.
Seeking God’s Help
For five years in the late 1800s, grasshoppers descended on Minnesota, destroying the crops. Farmers tried trapping the grasshoppers in tar and burning their fields to kill the eggs. Feeling desperate, and on the brink of starvation, many people sought a statewide day of prayer, yearning to seek God’s help together. The governor relented, setting aside April 26 to pray.
In the days after the collective prayer, the weather warmed and the eggs started to come to life. But then four days later a drop in temperature surprised and delighted many, for the freezing temperatures killed the larvae. Minnesotans once again would harvest their crops of corn, wheat, and oats.
Prayer was also behind the saving of God’s people during the reign of King Jehoshaphat. When the king learned that a vast army was coming against him, he called God’s people to pray and fast. The people reminded God how He’d saved them in times past. And Jehoshaphat said that if calamity came upon them, “whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine,” they would cry out to God knowing that He would hear and save them (2 Chronicles 20:9).
God rescued His people from the invading armies, and He hears us when we cry out to Him in distress. Whatever your concern, whether a relationship or something threatening from the natural world, lift it to God in prayer. Nothing it too hard for Him.
The Secret of Contentment
When Joni Eareckson Tada returned home after suffering a swimming accident that left her a quadriplegic, her life was vastly different. Now doorways were too narrow for her wheelchair and sinks were too high. Someone had to feed her, until she decided to relearn how to feed herself. Lifting the special spoon to her mouth from her arm splint the first time, she felt humiliated as she smeared applesauce on her clothes. But she pressed on. As she says, “My secret was learning to lean on Jesus and say, ‘Oh God, help me with this!’” Today she manages a spoon very well.
Joni says her confinement made her look at another captive—the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in a Roman jail—and his letter to the Philippians. Joni strives for what Paul achieved: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Note that Paul had to learn to be at peace; he wasn’t naturally peaceful. How did he find contentment? Through trusting in Christ: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13).
We all face different challenges throughout our days, and we all can look to Jesus moment by moment for help, strength, and peace. He will help us to hold back from snapping at our loved ones; He will give us the courage to do the next hard thing. Look to Him and find contentment.