When I was growing up, my two sisters and I liked to sit side-by-side on top of my mother’s large cedar-lined chest. My mom kept our wool sweaters in it and handiwork that was embroidered or crocheted by my grandmother. She valued the contents of the chest and relied on the pungent odor of the cedar wood to discourage moths from destroying what was inside.
Most earthly possessions can easily be destroyed by insects, rust, or can even be stolen. Matthew 6 encourages us to place a special focus—not on things that have a limited lifespan—but those that have eternal value. When my mom died at fifty-seven, she had not accumulated a lot of earthly possessions, but I like to think about the treasure she stored up in heaven (vv. 19–20).
I recall how much she loved God and served Him in quiet ways: caring faithfully for her family, teaching children in Sunday school, befriending a woman abandoned by her husband, comforting a young mother who had lost her baby. And she prayed . . . . Even after she lost her sight and became confined to a wheelchair, she continued to love and pray for others.
Our real treasure isn’t measured in what we accumulate—but in what or whom we invest our time and our passions. What “treasures” are we storing up in heaven by serving and following Jesus?
My granddaughter Allyssa and I have a regular routine we go through when we say goodbye. We wrap our arms around each other and begin to loudly wail with dramatic sobs for about twenty seconds. Then we step back and casually say, “See ya,” and turn away. Despite our silly practice, we always expect that we will see each other again—soon.
But sometimes the pain of separation from those we care about can be difficult. When the apostle Paul said farewell to the elders from Ephesus, “They all wept as they embraced him. . . . What grieved them most was [Paul’s] statement that they would never see his face again” (Acts 20:37–38).
The deepest sorrow, however, comes when we are parted by death and say goodbye for the last time in this life. That separation seems unthinkable. We mourn. We weep. How can we face the heartbreak of never again embracing the ones we have loved?
Still . . . we do not grieve like those who have no hope. Paul writes of a future reunion for those who “believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). He declares: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel,” and those who have died, along with those who are still alive, will be united with our Lord. What a reunion!
And—best of all—we will be forever with Jesus. That’s an eternal hope.
Marilyn had been ill for many weeks, and many people had encouraged her through this difficult time. How will I ever repay all their kindnesses? she worried. Then one day she read the words of a written prayer: “Pray that [others] will develop humility, allowing them not only to serve, but also to be served.” Marilyn suddenly realized there was no need to balance any scale, but just to be thankful and allow others to experience the joy of serving.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul expressed his gratitude for all those who shared “in [his] troubles” (v. 14). He depended on people to support him as he preached and taught the gospel. He understood that the gifts provided for him when he was in need were simply an extension of people’s love for God: “[Your gifts] are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (v. 18).
It may not be easy to be the one on the receiving end—especially if you’ve usually been the first one to help other people. But with humility, we can allow God to gently care for us by a variety of means when we need help.
Paul wrote, “My God will meet all your needs” (v. 19). It was something He had learned during a life of trials. God is faithful and His provision for us has no limits.
On her first day in preschool, young Charlotte was asked to draw a picture of herself. Her artwork featured a simple orb for a body, an oblong head, and two circle eyes. On her last day of preschool, Charlotte was again directed to draw a self-portrait. This one showed a little girl in a colorful dress, a smiling face with distinct features, and a cascade of beautiful red tresses. The school had used a simple assignment to demonstrate the difference that time can make in the level of maturity.
While we accept that it takes time for children to mature, we may grow impatient with ourselves or fellow believers who show slow spiritual growth. We rejoice when we see the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), but are disheartened when we observe an obvious lack of spiritual maturity. The author of Hebrews spoke of this when he wrote to the church: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (Heb. 5:12).
As we continue to pursue intimacy with Jesus ourselves, let’s pray for each other and patiently come alongside those who love God but who seem to struggle with spiritual growth. “Speaking the truth in love,” let’s continue to encourage one another, so that together we may “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
Singer/songwriter Robert Hamlet wrote “Lady Who Prays for Me” as a tribute to his mother who made a point of praying for her boys each morning before they went to the bus stop. After a young mom heard Hamlet sing his song, she committed to praying with her own little boy. The result was heartwarming! Just before her son went out the door, his mother prayed for him. Five minutes later he returned . . . bringing kids from the bus stop with him! His mom was taken aback and asked what was going on. The boy responded, “Their moms didn’t pray with them.”
In the book of Ephesians, Paul urges us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers” (6:18). Demonstrating our daily dependence on God is essential in a family since many children first learn to trust God as they observe genuine faith in the people closest to them (2 Tim. 1:5). There is no better way to teach the utmost importance of prayer than by praying for and with our children. It is one of the ways they begin to sense a compelling need to reach out personally to God in faith.
When we “start children off” by modeling “a sincere faith” in God (Prov. 22:6; 2 Tim. 1:5), we give them a special gift, an assurance that God is an ever-present part of our lives—continually loving, guiding, and protecting us.
As we exited the parking lot, my husband slowed the car to wait for a young woman riding her bike. When Tom nodded to indicate she could go first, she smiled, waved, and rode on. Moments later, the driver from a parked SUV threw his door open, knocking the young bicyclist to the pavement. Her legs bloodied, she cried as she examined her bent-up bike.
Later, we reflected on the accident: If only we had made her wait . . . If only the driver had looked before opening his door. If only . . . Difficulties catch us up in a cycle of second-guessing ourselves. If only I had known my child was with teens who were drinking . . . If only we had found the cancer earlier . . .
When unexpected trouble comes, we sometimes question the goodness of God. We may even feel the despair that Martha and Mary experienced when their brother died. Oh, if Jesus had only come when He first found out that Lazarus was sick! (John 11:21, 32).
Like Martha and Mary, we don’t always understand why hard things happen to us. But we can rest in the knowledge that God is working out His purposes for a greater good. In every circumstance, we can trust the wisdom of our faithful and loving God.
Hollywood musicals were wildly popular during the 1950s and ’60s, and three actresses in particular—Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and Deborah Kerr—thrilled viewers with their compelling performances. But a huge part of the appeal of these actresses was the breathtaking singing that enhanced their acting. In fact, the classic films’ successes were actually due in large part to Marni Nixon, who dubbed the voices for each of those leading ladies and who for a long time went completely uncredited for her vital contribution.
In the body of Christ there are often people that faithfully support others who take a more public role. The apostle Paul depended on exactly that kind of person in his ministry. Tertius’s work as a scribe gave Paul his powerful written voice (Rom. 16:22). Epaphras’s consistent behind-the-scene prayers were an essential foundation for Paul and the early church (Col. 4:12-13). Lydia generously opened her home when the weary apostle needed restoration (Acts 16:15). Paul’s work could not have been possible without the support he received from these fellow servants in Christ (Col. 4:7-18).
We, like Marni Nixon, may not always have highly visible roles, yet we know that God is pleased when we obediently play our essential part in His plan. When we “give [ourselves] fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58), we will find value and meaning in our service as it brings glory to God and draws others to Him (Matt. 5:16).
My father once admitted to me, “When you were growing up, I was gone a lot.”
I don’t remember that. Besides working his full-time job, he was gone some evenings to direct choir practice at church, and he occasionally traveled for a week or two with a men’s quartet. But for all the significant (and many small) moments of my life—he was there.
For instance, when I was 8, I had a tiny part in an afternoon play at school. All the mothers came, but only one dad—mine. In many little ways, he has always let my sisters and me know that we are important to him and that he loves us. And seeing him tenderly caring for my mom in the last few years of her life taught me exactly what unselfish love looks like. Dad isn’t perfect, but he’s always been a dad who gives me a good glimpse of my heavenly Father. And ideally, that’s what a Christian dad should do.
At times earthly fathers disappoint or hurt their children. But our Father in heaven is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). When a dad who loves the Lord corrects, comforts, instructs, and provides for the needs of his children, he models for them our perfect Father in heaven.
When my husband plays the harmonica for our church praise team, I have noticed that he sometimes closes his eyes when he plays a song. He says this helps him focus and block out distractions so he can play his best—just his harmonica, the music, and him—all praising God.
Some people wonder if our eyes must be closed when we pray. Since we can pray at any time in any place, however, it might prove difficult to always close our eyes—especially if we are taking a walk, pulling weeds, or driving a vehicle!
There are also no rules on what position our body must be in when we talk to God. When King Solomon prayed to dedicate the temple he had built, he knelt down and “spread out his hands toward heaven” (2 Chron. 6:13–14). Kneeling (Eph. 3:14), standing (Luke 18:10-13) and even lying face down (Matt. 26:39) are all mentioned in the Bible as positions for prayer.
Whether we kneel or stand before God, whether we lift our hands heavenward or close our eyes so we can better focus on God—it is not the posture of our body, but of our heart that is important. Everything we do “flows from [our heart]” (Prov. 4:23). When we pray, may our hearts always be bowed in adoration, gratitude, and humility to our loving God, for we know that His eyes are “open and [His] ears attentive to the prayers” of His people (2 Chron. 6:40).