Krista stood in the freezing cold on a winter day, looking at the beautiful snow-encased lighthouse along the lake. As she pulled out her phone to take pictures, her glasses fogged over. She couldn’t see a thing so she decided to point her camera toward the lighthouse and snapped three pictures at different angles. Looking at them later, she realized the camera had been set to take “selfies.” She laughed as she said, “My focus was me, me, and me. All I saw was me.” Krista’s photos got me thinking of a similar mistake: We can become so self-focused we lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s plan.
Jesus’s cousin John (a.k.a. John the Baptist) clearly knew his focus wasn’t himself. Right from the start he recognized that his position or calling was to point others to Jesus, the Son of God. “Look, the Lamb of God!” he said when he saw Jesus coming toward him and his followers (John 1:29). He continued, “The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed” (v. 31). When John’s disciples later reported that Jesus was gaining followers, John said, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ . . . He must become greater; I must become less” (3:28–30).
May the central focus of our lives be Jesus and loving Him with our whole heart.
Last year, friends and I prayed for healing for three women battling cancer. We knew God had the power to do this, and we asked Him to do so every day. We’d seen Him work in the past and believed He could do it again. There were days in each one’s battle where healing looked like it was a reality, and we rejoiced. But they all died that fall. Some said that was “the ultimate healing,” and in a way it was. Still the loss hurt us deeply. We wanted Him to heal them all—here and now—but for reasons we couldn’t understand, no miracle came.
Some people followed Jesus for the miracles He performed and to get their needs met (John 6:2, 26). Some simply saw Him as the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55–58), and others expected Him to be their political leader (Luke 19:37–38). Some thought of Him as a great teacher (Matthew 7:28–29), while others quit following Him because His teaching was hard to understand (John 6:66).
Jesus still doesn’t always meet our expectations of Him. Yet He is so much more than we can imagine. He’s the provider of eternal life (vv. 47–48). He is good and wise; and He loves, forgives, stays close, and brings us comfort. May we find rest in Jesus as He is and keep following Him.
Elizabeth struggled for a long time with drug addiction, and when she recovered wanted to help others in return. So she started writing notes and anonymously placing them throughout her city. Elizabeth tucks these notes under car windshield wipers and tacks them on poles in parks. She used to look for signs of hope; now she leaves them for others to find. One of her notes concluded with these words: “Much love. Hope sent.”
Hope with love—that’s what Jesus gives. He brings us His love with each new day and strengthens us with that hope. His love is not rationed out to us drop by drop but flows out of His heart freely and is poured lavishly into ours: “We know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:5
Are you looking for signs of hope? The Lord gives hope with love through inviting us to grow in a relationship with Him. Our hope for a fulfilling life is anchored in His unfailing love.
My coworker Tom keeps an 8” by 12” glass cross on his desk. His friend Phil, who like Tom is a cancer survivor, gave it to him to help him look at everything “through the cross.” The glass cross is a constant reminder of God’s love and good purposes for him.
That’s a challenging idea for all believers in Jesus, especially during difficult times. It’s much easier to focus on our problems than on God’s love.
The apostle Paul’s life was certainly an example of a cross-shaped perspective. He described himself in times of suffering as being “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). He believed that in the hard times, God is at work, “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (vv. 17–18).
To “fix our eyes . . . on what is unseen” doesn’t mean we minimize the problems. Paul Barnett, in his commentary on this passage, explains, “There is to be confidence, based on the certainty of God’s purposes for [us] . . . . On the other hand, there is the sober recognition that we groan with hope mingled with pain.”
Jesus gave His life for us. His love is deep and sacrificial. As we look at life “through the cross,” we see His love and faithfulness. And our trust in Him grows.
Rima, a Syrian woman who had recently moved to the United States, tried to explain to her tutor with hand motions and limited English why she was upset. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she held up a beautifully arranged platter of fatayer (meat, cheese, and spinach pies) that she had made. Then she said, “One man,” and made a swishing sound as she pointed from the door to the living room and then back to the door. The tutor pieced together that several people from a nearby church were supposed to visit Rima and her family and bring Christmas gifts. But only one man had shown up. He had hurried in, dropped off the box of presents, and rushed out. He was busy taking care of a responsibility, while she and her family were lonely and longed for community and to share their fatayer with new friends.
Taking time for people is what Jesus was all about. He attended dinner parties, taught crowds, and took time for interaction with individuals. He even invited Himself to one man’s house. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, climbed a tree to see Him, and when Jesus looked up, He said, “Come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:1–9). And Zacchaeus’s life was changed forever.
Because of other responsibilities, we won’t always be able to spend the time. But when we do, we have a wonderful privilege of being with others and watching the Lord work through us.
The young man fidgeted as he sat down for his flight. His eyes darted back and forth to the aircraft windows. Then he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to calm himself—but it didn’t work. As the plane took off, he slowly rocked back and forth. An older woman across the aisle from him put her hand on his arm and gently engaged him in conversation to divert his attention from his stress. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “We’re going to be okay,” and “You’re doing well” were a few things she whispered. She could have been irritated with him or ignored him. But she chose a touch and a few words. Little things. When they landed three hours later, he said, “Thank you so much for helping me.”
Such beautiful pictures of tenderheartedness can be hard to find. Kindness does not come naturally to many of us; our primary concern is often ourselves. But when the apostle Paul urged, “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32), he was not saying it all depends on us. After we’ve been given a new life by our faith in Jesus, the Spirit begins a transformation. Kindness is the ongoing work of the Spirit renewing our thoughts and attitudes (v. 23).
The God of compassion is at work in our hearts, allowing us in turn to touch others’ lives by reaching out and whispering words of encouragement.
Regina drove home from work discouraged and tired. The day had started with tragic news in a text message from a friend, then spiraled downward in meetings with co-workers who refused to work with any of her ideas. As Regina was talking to the Lord, she thought it best to put the stress of the day aside and made a surprise visit with flowers to an elderly friend at a care center. Her spirits lifted as Maria shared how good the Lord was to her. She said, "I have my own bed and a chair, three meals a day, and help from the nurses here. And occasionally God sends a cardinal to my window just because He knows I love them and He loves me."
Attitude. Perspective. As the saying goes, "Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it." The people James wrote to were scattered because of persecution, and he asked them to consider their perspective about difficulties. He challenged them with these words: “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
We are each on our own journey of learning to trust God with hard circumstances. The kind of joy-filled perspective James talked about comes as we learn to see that God can use struggles to produce maturity in our faith.
It was 10-year-old Cleotis’ first time fishing, and as he looked into the container of bait he seemed hesitant to get started. Finally he said to my husband, “Help me, I-S-O-W!” When my husband asked him what the problem was, Cleotis responded, “I-S-O-W! I’m Scared Of Worms!” His fear had made him unable to act.
Fear can paralyze grown men too. Gideon must’ve been afraid when the angel of the Lord came to him as he was threshing wheat in secret, hiding from his Midianite enemies (Judges 6:11). The angel told him he had been chosen by God to lead His people in battle (vv.12-14).
Gideon’s response? “Pardon me, my lord . . . but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (v. 15). After being assured of the Lord’s presence, Gideon still seemed fearful and asked Him for signs that He would use him to save Israel as He promised (vv. 36–40). And God responded to Gideon’s requests. The Israelites were successful in battle and then enjoyed peace for forty years.
We all have fears of various kinds—from worms to wars. Gideon’s story teaches us that we can be confident of this: If God asks us to do something, He’ll give us the strength and power to do it.
“Is God doing something new in your life?” was the question the leader asked in a group I was in recently. My friend Mindy, who is dealing with some difficult situations, responded. She told of needing patience with aging parents, stamina for her husband’s health issues, and understanding of her children and grandchildren who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus. Then she made an insightful comment that runs contrary to what we might normally think: “I believe the new thing God is doing is He’s expanding my capacity and opportunities to love.”
That fits nicely with the apostle Paul’s prayer for new believers in Thessalonica: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 3:12). He had taught them about Jesus but had to leave abruptly because of rioting (Acts 17:1–9). Now in his letter he encouraged them to continue to stand firm in their faith (1 Thess. 3:7–8). And he prayed that the Lord would increase their love for all.
During difficulties we often choose to complain and ask, Why? Or wonder, Why me? Another way to handle those times could be to ask the Lord to expand His love in our hearts and to help us take the new opportunities that come to love others.