It was the seventh-grader’s first cross-country meet, but she didn’t want to run. Although she’d been preparing for the event, she was afraid of doing poorly. Still, she started the race with everyone else. Later, one by one the other runners finished the two-mile course and crossed the finish line—everyone except the reluctant runner. Finally, her mom, who was watching eagerly to see her daughter finish, saw a lone figure in the distance. The mother went to the finish line, preparing to comfort a distraught competitor. Instead, when the young runner saw her mom, she exclaimed, “That was awesome!”
What can be awesome about finishing last? Finishing!
The girl had tried something difficult and had accomplished it! Scripture honors hard work and diligence, a concept often learned through sports or music or other things that require perseverance and effort.
Proverbs 12:24 says, “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.” And later we read, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (14:23). These wise principles—not promises—can help us serve God well.
God’s plan for us always included work. Even before the fall, Adam was to “work [the Garden] and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). And any effort we make should be done “with all [our] heart” (Colossians 3:23). As believers in Jesus, let’s work in the strength He gives us—and leave the results to Him.
The first time a bat invaded our home we dismissed it as a fluke. But after a second nighttime visit, I read up on the little critters and discovered they don’t need much of an opening to pay humans a visit. I had assumed they would need a gaping hole, but I discovered that if they find a gap as small as the side of a coin they’ll let themselves in.
So I loaded up my caulk gun and went on a mission. I went around the house and closed up every tiny opening I could find.
In Songs of Songs 2:15, Solomon mentions another troublesome mammal. He writes of the danger of “little foxes,” which can “ruin the vineyards.” Symbolically, he’s speaking of threats that can enter a relationship and ruin it. Now I don’t mean to offend bat-lovers or fox-lovers, but keeping bats out of the house and foxes out of the vineyard is a bit like dealing with sin in our lives (Ephesians 5:3). By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit works within us so that we don’t have to “live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). By the Spirit’s power we can resist the temptation to sin.
Praise God that, in Christ, we are now “light in the Lord” and can live in a way that “pleases” Him (Ephesians 5:8-10). The Spirit helps us catch those little foxes.
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is a spectacular building. Its architecture is spellbinding, and its stained-glass windows and splendid interior features are breathtaking. But after centuries of standing sentry over the Paris landscape, it is falling apart. Time and pollution have taken their toll, and it is time for this glorious structure to be repaired.
So the people who love this eight-century-old landmark are coming to its rescue. In a recent year, the French government set aside more than six million dollars to help restore the church. Its supporting flying buttresses must be shored up. Many of its exterior stonework needs to be replaced. And the roof needs work. The money will be well spent, because for many this ancient cathedral stands as symbol of hope.
What’s true of buildings is also true of us. Our bodies, like this old church, will eventually look a bit worse for wear! But as the apostle Paul explains, there’s good news: while we might gradually lose the physical vibrancy of youth, the core of who we are—our spiritual being—can be continually renewing and growing (2 Corinthians 4:16).
As “we make it our goal to please [the Lord]” (2 Corinthians 5:10), relying on the Holy Spirit to fill and transform us (Ephesians 5:18, 2 Corinthians 3:18), our spiritual growth need never stop—no matter what our “building” looks like.
I recently found a “hack” (a clever solution to a tricky problem) when one of my grandchildren warmed her stuffed rabbit on our fireplace glass. The resulting globs of bunny fur weren’t pretty, but a fireplace expert provided a great hack—a tip for how to make the glass look like new. It worked, and now we no longer allow stuffed animals near the fireplace!
I bring up hacks because sometimes we can view Scripture as a collection of hacks—tips to make life easier. While it’s true that the Bible has much to say about how to live a Christ-honoring new life, that’s not the only purpose of the Book. What Scripture provides for us is a solution for mankind’s greatest need: rescue from sin and eternal separation from God.
From the promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15 all the way to the true hope of a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1–2), the Bible explains that God has an eternal plan for rescuing us from our sin and allowing us to enjoy fellowship with Him. In every story and every suggestion for how to live, the Bible is pointing us to Jesus—the only One who can solve our biggest problem.
May we remember that when we open God’s Book, we’re looking for Jesus, the rescue He offers, and how to live as His children. He’s provided the greatest solution of all!
Thomas knew what he needed to do. Having been born to a poor family in India and adopted by Americans, upon a return trip to India he witnessed the dire needs of the children in his hometown. So he knew he had to help. He began making plans to return to the US, finish his education, make a lot of money, and come back in the future.
Then, after reading James 2:14–18 in which the apostle asks, “What good is it . . . if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?,” Thomas heard a little girl in his native country cry out to her mother: “But Mommy, I’m hungry now!” He was reminded of the times he had been intensely hungry as a child—searching through trash cans for food. Thomas knew he couldn’t wait years to help. He decided, “I’ll start now!”
Today the orphanage he began houses fifty children who are well cared for, learning about Jesus, getting an education, and having plenty to eat—all because one man didn’t put off what he knew God was asking him to do.
James’s message applies to us as well. Our faith in Jesus Christ provides us with great advantages—a relationship with Him, an abundant life, and a future hope—but what good is it doing anyone else if we don’t reach out and help those in need? Can you hear the cry: “I’m hungry now?”
When Abby was a sophomore in high school, she and her mom heard a news story about a young man who’d been critically injured in a plane accident—an accident that took the lives of his father and stepmother. Although they didn’t know this person, Abby’s mom said, “We just need to pray for him and his family.” And they did.
Fast forward a few years, and one day Abby walked into a class at her university. A male student offered her the seat next to him. That student was Austin Hatch, the plane crash victim Abby had prayed for. Soon they were dating, and in 2018 they were married.
“It’s crazy to think that I was praying for my future husband,” Abby said in an interview shortly before they were married.
It can be easy to limit our prayers to our own personal needs and for those closest to us, without taking the time to pray for others. However, Paul, writing to the Christians at Ephesus, told them to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kind of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and keep praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). Also, 1 Timothy 2:1 tells us to pray “for all people,” especially those in authority.
Let’s intercede for others—even people we don’t know. It’s one of the ways we can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
I was eager to return to St. James Infirmary in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and reconnect with Rendell, who two years earlier had learned about Jesus’s love for him. Evie, a teenager in the high school choir I travel with each spring, had read Scripture with Rendell and explained the gospel, and he personally received Jesus as his Savior.
When I entered the men’s section of the home and looked toward Rendell’s bed, however, I found it was empty. I went to the nurse’s station, and was told what I didn’t want to hear. He had passed away—just five days before we arrived.
Through tears, I texted Evie the sad news. Her response was simple: “Rendell is celebrating with Jesus.” Later she said, “It’s a good thing we told him about Jesus when we did.”
Her words reminded me of the importance of being ready to lovingly share with others the hope we have in Christ. No, it’s not always easy to proclaim the gospel message about the One who will “be with [us] always” (Matthew 28:20), but when we think about the difference it made for us and for people like Rendell, perhaps we’ll be encouraged to be even more ready to “make disciples” wherever we go (v. 19).
I’ll never forget the sadness of seeing that empty bed—and also the joy of knowing what a difference one faithful teen made in Rendell’s forever life.
It was a dark and somber day in the outskirts of Jerusalem. On a hill just outside the city walls, a Man who’d been attracting crowds of eager followers for the past three years hung in disgrace and pain on a rough wooden cross. Mourners wept and wailed in sorrow. The light of the sun no longer brightened the afternoon sky. And the intense suffering of the Man on the cross ended when He cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” (Matthew 27:50; John 19:30).
At that very moment, another sound came from the great temple across town—the sound of ripping fabric. Miraculously, without human intervention, the huge, thick veil that separated the outer temple from the Holy of Holies tore in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).
That torn curtain symbolized the reality of the cross: a new way was now open to God! Jesus, the Man on the cross, had shed His blood as the last sacrifice—the one true and sufficient sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10)—which allows all who believe in Him to enjoy forgiveness and enter into a relationship with God (Romans 5:6–11).
Amidst the darkness of that original Good Friday, we received the best news ever—an open door to be saved from our sins and to experience fellowship with God forever (Hebrews 10:19–22). Thank God for the message of the torn veil!
As the enemy occupation of the Netherlands grew, Anne Frank and her family bravely prepared and then moved to a secret hiding place to escape the danger. They remained there two years during World War II before being found and sent to concentration camps. Yet Anne, writing in what became her famous Diary of a Young Girl said this: “In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”
Gentleness can be a complicated issue as we deal with real life.
In Isaiah 40 we get a picture of God that shows Him to be both gentle and powerful. In verse 11 we read: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms.” But that verse follows this: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm” (v. 10). Full of power, but gentle when it comes to protecting the vulnerable.
And think of Jesus, who fashioned a whip and brandished it as He flipped over the money-changers tables in the temple but who also gently cared for children. He used powerful words to denounce the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39) but forgave a woman who needed His gentle mercy (John 8:1–11).
While there may be times to stand up with power for the weak and challenge others to pursue justice—we’re also to “let [our] gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5). As we serve God, sometimes our greatest strength reveals a heart of gentleness to those in need.