The leader of our college singing group directed the group and accompanied us on the piano at the same time, skillfully balancing those responsibilities. At the close of one concert, he looked particularly weary, so I asked him if he was okay. He responded, “I’ve never had to do that before. Then he explained. “The piano was so out of tune I had to play the whole concert in two different keys—my left hand playing in one key and my right hand in another!” I was blown away by the startling skill he displayed, and I was amazed at the One who creates humans to be capable of such things.
King David expressed an even greater sense of wonder when he wrote, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it” (Psalm 139:14
One day, when we are in God’s presence, people from every generation will worship Him with the words, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11). The amazing skills God gives us and the great beauty God has created are ample reason to worship Him.
In January 1943, warm Chinook winds hit Spearfish, South Dakota, raising the temperatures from –4° to 45°F (–20° to 7° C) over a two-minute span. That drastic weather change—a swing of 49 degrees—took place in just two minutes. The widest temperature change recorded in the USA over a 24-hour period is an incredible 103°F (57°C). On January 15, 1972, Loma, Montana, saw the temperature jump from −54° to 49°F (–48° to 9°C).
Sudden change, however, is not simply a weather phenomenon. It is sometimes the very nature of life. James reminds us, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow” (4:13–14). An unexpected loss. A surprise diagnosis. A financial reversal. Sudden changes.
Life is a journey with many unpredictable elements. This is precisely why James warns us away from “arrogant schemes” (v. 16) that do not take the Almighty into account. As he advised us, “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15). The events of our lives may be uncertain, but one thing is sure: through all of life’s unexpected moments, our God will never leave us. He is our one constant throughout life.
“Chasing tornadoes,” says Warren Faidley, “is often like a giant game of 3D-chess played out over thousands of square miles.” The photojournalist and storm chaser adds: “Being in the right place at the right time is a symphony of forecasting and navigation while dodging everything from softball-sized hailstones to dust storms and slow-moving farm equipment.”
Faidley’s words make my palms sweat. While admiring the raw courage and scientific hunger storm chasers display, I balk at throwing myself into the middle of potentially fatal weather events.
In my experience, however, I don’t have to chase storms in life—they seem to be chasing me. That experience is mirrored by Psalm 107 as it describes sailors trapped in a storm. They were being chased by the consequences of their wrong choices but the psalmist says, “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (Psalm 107:28–29).
Whether the storms of life are of our own making or the result of living in a broken world, our Father is greater than the storm. When we are being chased by storms, He alone is able to calm them—or to calm the storm within us.
Here in Michigan, the winters can be brutal, with sub-zero temperatures and never-ending snow. One bitterly cold day, as I shoveled snow for what seemed like the thousandth time, our postman paused in his rounds to ask how I was doing. I told him that I disliked winter and was weary of all the heavy snow. I then commented that his job must be pretty rough during these extreme weather conditions. He responded, “Yeah, but at least I have a job,” he said. “A lot of people don’t. I’m thankful to be working.”
I have to admit that I felt quite convicted by his attitude of gratitude. How easily we can lose sight of everything we have to be thankful for when the circumstances of life become unpleasant.
Paul told the followers of Christ at Colossae, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Even in our times of genuine struggle and pain, we can know God’s peace and permit it to rule our hearts. And in that peace, we will find reminders of all that we have been given in Christ. In that, we can truly be thankful.
When the legendary composer Guiseppi Verdi (1813–1901) was young, a hunger for approval drove him toward success. Warren Wiersbe wrote of him, “When Verdi produced his first opera in Florence, the composer stood by himself in the shadows and kept his eye on the face of one man in the audience—the great Rossini. It mattered not to Verdi whether the people in the hall were cheering him or jeering him; all he wanted was a smile of approval from the master musician.”
Whose approval do we seek? A parent? A boss? A love interest? For Paul, there was but one answer. He wrote, “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
What does it mean to seek God’s approval? At the very least, it involves two things: turning from the desire for the applause or others and allowing His Spirit to make us more like Christ—the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. As we yield to His perfect purposes in us and through us, we can anticipate a day when we will experience the smile of His approval—the approval of the One who matters most.
Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of former US president Abraham Lincoln, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, . . . who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.” “Steel and velvet” described how Lincoln balanced the power of his office with concern for individuals longing for freedom.
Only one person in all history perfectly balanced strength and softness, power and compassion. That man is Jesus Christ. In John 8, when confronted by the religious leaders to condemn a guilty woman, Jesus displayed both steel and velvet. He showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves. He said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Then Jesus modeled the velvet of compassion by telling the woman, “Neither do I condemn you . . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).
Reflecting His “steel and velvet” in our own responses to others can reveal the Father’s work of conforming us to be like Jesus. We can show His heart to a world hungry for both the velvet of mercy and the steel of justice.
Many movie critics consider David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia one of the greatest films of all time. With its seemingly endless vistas of the Arabian deserts, it has influenced a generation of filmmakers—including Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg. “I was inspired the first time I saw Lawrence,” said Spielberg. “It made me feel puny. It still makes me feel puny. And that’s one measure of its greatness.”
What makes me feel small is creation’s vastness—when I gaze at an ocean, fly over the polar ice cap, or survey a night sky sparkling with a billion stars. If the created universe is so expansive, how much greater must be the Creator who spoke it into being!
God’s greatness and our feelings of insignificance are echoed by David when he declared, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4
I may feel small and insignificant, but through my Father’s eyes, I have great worth—a worth that is proven every time I look at the cross. The price He was willing to pay to restore me to fellowship with Him is evidence of how He values me.
Irish poet Oscar Wilde said, “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old, I know that it is.” His comment was made tongue-in-cheek; he lived only to age 46, so he never truly was “old.” Wilde fully understood that life is not about money.
Money is temporary; it comes and it goes. So life must be about more than money and what it can buy. Jesus challenged the people of His generation—rich and poor alike—to a recalibrated value system. In Luke 12:15, Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” In our culture, where there is an abiding focus on more and newer and better, there is something to be said both for contentment and for perspective about how we view money and possessions.
Upon meeting Jesus, a rich young ruler went away sad because he had many possessions that he didn’t want to give up (see Luke 18:18–25), but Zacchaeus the tax collector gave away much of what he had spent his life acquiring (Luke 19:8). The difference is embracing the heart of Christ. In His grace, we can find a healthy perspective on the things we possess—so they don’t become the things that have us.
An intriguing element of English football is the team anthem sung by the fans at the start of each match. These songs range from the fun (“Glad All Over”), to the whimsical (“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”), to the surprising. “Psalm 23,” for instance, is the anthem of the club from West Bromwich Albion. The words of that psalm appear on the façade inside the team’s stadium, declaring to everyone who comes to watch the “West Brom Baggies” the care of the good, great, and chief Shepherd.
In Psalm 23 David made his timeless statement, “The
“The Lord is my shepherd” is far more than an ancient lyric or a clever slogan. It is the confident statement of what it means to be known and loved by our great God—and what it means to be rescued by His Son.