Folks ask me if I have a five-year plan. How can I plan five years “down the road” on a road I’ve never traveled?
I think back to the 1960s when I was a minister to students at Stanford University. I had been a physical education major in college and had a lot of fun, but I left no record of being a scholar. I felt wholly inadequate in my new position. What was I to do? Most days I wandered around the campus, a blind man groping in the darkness, asking God to show me what to do. One day a student "out of the blue" asked me to lead a Bible study in his fraternity. It was a beginning.
God doesn’t stand at a juncture and point the way: He’s a guide, not a signpost. He walks with us, leading us down paths we never envisioned. All we have to do is walk alongside Him.
The path won’t be easy; there’ll be “rough places" along the way. But God has promised that He will “turn the darkness into light” and “will not forsake” us (Isaiah 42:16). He’ll be with us all the way.
Paul said that God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). We can scheme and envision, but our Lord’s imagination far transcends our plans. We must then hold them loosely and see what God has in mind.
Years ago, when I was learning to ski, I followed my son Josh down what appeared to be a gentle slope. With my eyes on him I failed to notice he turned down the steepest hill on the mountain, and I found myself careening down the slope, completely out of control. I cratered, of course.
Psalm 141 addresses a similar deceit by which we find ourselves slipping down sin’s slope. Prayer is one of the ways we stay alert to those slopes: “Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil” (141:4) is a plea that echoes the Lord’s prayer almost exactly: “Lead [me] not into temptation, but deliver [me] from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). In His goodness, God hears and answers this prayer.
And then I find in this psalm another agent of grace: a faithful friend. “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5). Temptations are subtle. We’re not always aware that we’re going wrong. A true friend can be objective. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). It's hard to accept reproof, but if we see the wounding as a “kindness” it can become an anointing that puts us back on the path of obedience.
May we be open to rebuke from a trusted friend and rely on God through prayer.
A young boy came home from church and announced with great delight that the lesson had been about a boy who “loafed and fished all day.” He, of course, was thinking of the little boy who offered his loaves and fish to Jesus.
Jesus had been teaching the crowds all day, and the disciples suggested He send them into the village to buy bread. Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). The disciples were flummoxed for there were more than 5,000 to be fed!
You may know the rest of the story: a boy gave his lunch—five small loaves of bread and two fish—and with it Jesus fed the crowd (vv. 13-21). One school of thought contends that the boy’s generosity simply moved others in the crowd to share their lunches, but Matthew clearly intends us to understand that this was a miracle, and the story appears in all four Gospels.
What can we learn? Family, neighbors, friends, colleagues, and others stand around us in various degrees of need. Should we send them away to those who are more capable than we are? Certainly some people’s needs exceed our ability to help them, but not always. Whatever you have—a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, a brief prayer, some wisdom you’ve gathered. Give it to Jesus and see what He can do.
One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach. One year, as his team was threading its way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament, well-meaning folks around town asked, “Are you going to win it all this year?” Both players and coaches felt the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: “Play with joy!”
I thought of the apostle Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus: “That I may finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24 nkjv). His aim was to complete the tasks Jesus had given him. I have made these words my mantra and my prayer: “May I run and finish my race with joy.” Or as Brian says, “May I play with joy!” And by the way, Brian’s team did win the state championship that year.
We all have good reasons to get grouchy: world news, everyday stresses, health problems. Nevertheless God can give us a joy that transcends these conditions if we ask Him. We can have what Jesus called, "My joy" (John 15:11).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus (Galatians 5:22). So I must remember each morning to ask Him to help me: "May I play with joy!” Author Richard Foster said, “To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by . . . joy.”
I peeked over the grape-stake fence that encloses our backyard. There, I saw folks running, jogging, walking, shuffling around the track that surrounds the park behind our home. I used to do that when I was stronger, I thought. And a wave of dissatisfaction washed over me.
Later, while reading the Scriptures, I came across Isaiah 55:1, “Come, all you who are thirsty,” and I realized again that dissatisfaction (thirst) is the rule, not the exception in this life. Nothing, not even the good things of life can fully satisfy. If I had strong legs like a Sherpa (mountain-climbing guide), there would still be something else that’s wrong that I’d be unhappy about.
Our culture is always telling us in one way or another that something we do, buy, wear, spray on, roll on, or ride in will give us endless pleasure. But that’s a lie. We can’t get complete satisfaction from anything in the here and now, no matter what we do.
Rather, Isaiah invites us to come again and again to God and the Scriptures to hear what He has to say. And what does He say? His love for David of old is “everlasting” and “faithful” (v. 3). And that goes for you and me as well! We can “Come” to Him.
When our grandson Jay was a child his parents gave him a new T-shirt for his birthday. He put it on right away and proudly wore it all day.
When he appeared the next morning in the shirt, his dad asked him, “Jay, does that shirt make you happy?”
“Not as much as yesterday,” Jay replied.
That’s the problem with material acquisition: Even the good things of life cannot give us the deep, lasting happiness we so ardently desire. Though we may have many possessions, we may still be unhappy.
The world offers happiness through material accumulation: new clothes, a new automobile, an update to our phone or watch. But no material acquisition can make us as happy as it did yesterday. That's because we were made for God and nothing less will do.
One day, when Jesus was fasting and faint with hunger, Satan approached Him and tempted Him to satisfy His hunger by creating bread. Jesus countered by quoting the text above: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God ” (Matthew 4:4).
Jesus did not say that we should not live on bread alone. He’s rather stating a fact: We are spiritual beings and thus we cannot exist on material goods alone.
True satisfaction is found in God and His riches.
Winnie the Pooh famously said, "If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”
I’ve learned over the years that Winnie might be on to something. When someone won’t listen to you even though following your counsel would be to their advantage, it may be that their reticence is nothing more than a small piece of fluff in their ear. Or there may be another hindrance: Some folks find it hard to listen well because they are broken and discouraged.
Moses said he spoke to the people of Israel but they didn’t listen because their spirits were broken and their lives were hard (Exodus 6:9). The word discouragement in the Hebrew text is literally “short of breath,” the result of their bitter enslavement in Egypt. That being the case, Israel’s reluctance to listen to Moses instruction called for understanding and compassion not censure.
What should we do when others won’t listen? Winnie the Pooh's words enshrine wisdom: “Be patient.” God says, “Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4); it is willing to wait. He is not finished with that individual. He is working through their sorrow, our love, and our prayers. Perhaps, in His time, He will open their ears to hear. Just be patient.
I have a treasured memory of gatherings with family friends when our boys were small. The adults would talk into the night; our children, weary with play would curl up on a couch or chair and fall asleep.
When it was time to leave, I would gather our boys into my arms, carry them to the car, lay them in the back seat, and take them home. When we arrived I would pick them up again, tuck them into their beds, kiss them goodnight, and turn out the light. In the morning they would awaken—at home.
This has become a rich metaphor for me of the night on which we “sleep in Jesus.” We slumber . . . and awaken in our eternal home, the home that will heal the weariness that has marked our days.
I came across an Old Testament text the other day that surprised me—a closing comment in Deuteronomy: “Moses died there in Moab, as the Lord had said” (34:5). The Hebrew means literally, “Moses died . . . with the mouth of the
Is it asking too much to envision God bending over us on our final night on earth, tucking us in and kissing us goodnight? Then, as John Donne so eloquently put it, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally.”
When I was in college, I worked a summer on a ranch in Colorado. One evening, tired and hungry after a long day of mowing hay, I drove the tractor into the yard. Acting like the hot shot I thought I was, I cranked the steering wheel hard left, stamped on the left brake, and spun the tractor around.
The sickle was down and swept the legs out from under a 500-gallon gasoline tank standing nearby. The tank hit the ground with a resounding boom, the seams split, and all the gasoline spewed out.
The rancher stood nearby surveying the scene.
I got off the tractor, stammered an apology, and—because it was the first thing that popped into my mind—offered to work the rest of the summer without pay.
The old rancher stared at the wreckage for a moment and turned toward the house. “Let’s go have dinner,” he drawled.
A scrap of a story Jesus told passed through my mind—a story about a young man who had done a terrible thing: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you,” he cried. He intended to add, “Make me like one of your hired servants,” but before he could get all the words out of his mouth his father interrupted him. In essence, he said, “Let’s go have dinner” (Luke 15:17–24).
Such is God’s amazing grace.