The story is told of a group of salmon fishermen who gathered in a Scottish inn after a long day of fishing. As one was describing a catch to his friends, his arm swept across the table and knocked a glass against the wall, shattering it and leaving a stain on the white plaster surface. The man apologized to the innkeeper and offered to pay for the damage, but there was nothing he could do; the wall was ruined. A man seated nearby said, “Don't worry.” Rising, he took a painting implement from his pocket and began to sketch around the ugly stain. Slowly there emerged the head of a magnificent stag. The man was Sir E. H. Landseer, Scotland's foremost animal artist.
David, Israel’s illustrious king who penned Psalm 51, brought shame on himself and his nation by his sins. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his friends and engineered the death of that friend—both deeds worthy of death. It would seem his life was ruined. But he pleads with God: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12).
Like David we have shameful acts in the past and the memories that accompany them, recollections that taunt us in the middle of the night. There’s so much we wish we could undo or redo.
There is a grace that not only forgives sin but also uses it to make us better than before. God wastes nothing.
Often we hear that happiness comes from doing things our own way. That, however, is not true. That philosophy leads only to emptiness, anxiety, and heartache.
Poet W. H. Auden observed people as they attempted to find an escape in pleasures. He wrote of such people: "Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good."
The psalmist David sings of the remedy for our fears and unhappiness. “I sought the
We say, "Seeing is believing." That's how we know things in this world. Show me proof and I'll believe it. God puts it the other way around. Believing is seeing. "Taste and then you will see."
Take the Lord at His word. Do the very next thing He is asking you to do and you will see. He will give you grace to do the right thing and more: He will give you Himself—the only source of goodness—and with it, enduring happiness.
I have a friend—her name is Edith—who told me about the day she decided to follow Jesus.
Edith cared nothing for religion. But one Sunday morning she walked into a church near her apartment looking for something to satisfy her discontented soul. The text that day was Luke 15:1–2, which the pastor read from the King James Version: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.’”
That’s what it said, but this is what Edith heard: “This man receives sinners and Edith with them.” She sat straight up in her pew! Eventually she realized her mistake, but the thought that Jesus welcomed sinners—and that included Edith—stayed with her. That afternoon she decided to “draw near” to Jesus and listen to Him. She began to read the Gospels, and soon she decided to put her faith in Him and follow Him.
The religious folks of Jesus’s day were scandalized by the fact that He ate and drank with sinful, awful people. Their rules prohibited them from associating with such folk. Jesus paid no attention to their made-up rules. He welcomed the down-and-out and gathered them to Him, no matter how far gone they were.
It’s still true, you know: Jesus receives sinners and (your name).
One of the tellers at my bank has a photograph of a Shelby Cobra roadster on his window. (The Cobra is a high–performance automobile built by the Ford Motor Company.)
One day, while transacting business at the bank, I asked him if that was his car. “No,” he replied, “that’s my passion, my reason to get up every morning and go to work. I’m going to own one someday.”
I understand this young man’s passion. A friend of mine owned a Cobra, and I drove it on one occasion! It’s a mean machine! But a Cobra, like everything else in this world, isn’t worth living for. Those who trust in things apart from God “are brought to their knees and fall,” according to the psalmist (Psalm 20:8).
That’s because we were made for God and nothing else will do—a truth we validate in our experience every day: We buy this or that because we think these things will make us happy, but like a child receiving a dozen Christmas presents or more, we ask ourselves, “Is this all?” Something is always missing.
Nothing this world has to offer us—even very good things—fully satisfy us. There is a measure of enjoyment in them, but our happiness soon fades away (1 John 2:17). Indeed, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself,” C. S. Lewis concluded. “There is no such thing.”
When our granddaughter Sarah was very young, she explained to me what happens when you die: “Only your face goes to heaven, not your body. You get a new body, but keep the same face.”
Sarah’s concept of our eternal state was a child’s understanding, of course, but she did grasp an essential truth. In a sense, our faces are a visible reflection of the invisible soul.
My mother used to say that an angry look might someday freeze on my face. She was wiser than she knew. A worried brow, an angry set to our mouths, a sly look in our eyes may reveal a miserable soul. On the other hand, kind eyes, a gentle look, a warm and welcoming smile—despite wrinkles, blemishes, and other disfigurements—become the marks of inner transformation.
We can’t do much about the faces we were born with, but we can do something about the kind of person we’re growing into. We can pray for humility, patience, kindness, tolerance, gratefulness, forgiveness, peace, and love (Galatians 5:22–26).
By God’s grace, and in His time, you and I may grow toward an inner resemblance to our Lord, a likeness reflected in a kind, old face. Thus, as John Donne said, age becomes “loveliest at the latest day.”
My friend’s brother (when they were both children) assured his sister an umbrella had enough lift to hold her up if she would only “believe.” So “by faith” she jumped off a barn roof and knocked herself out, suffering a minor concussion.
What God has promised, He will do. But we must be sure we stand on God’s actual word when we claim a promise, for only then do we have the assurance that God will do or give what He’s promised. Faith has no power in itself. It only counts when it’s based on a clear and unambiguous promise from God. Anything else is just wishful thinking.
Here’s a case in point: God has promised, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:7–8). These verses are not a promise that God will answer every prayer we utter, but rather a promise that He will respond to every longing for personal righteousness, what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23). If we hunger and thirst for holiness and ask God for it, He will begin to satisfy us. It will take time; for spiritual growth, like human growth, is gradual. Don’t give up. Keep asking God to make you holy. In His time and at His pace “it will be given.” God doesn’t make promises He doesn’t keep.
“Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite. Or waiting around for Friday night . . . . Everyone is just waiting”—or so Dr. Seuss, author of many children’s books, says.
So much of life is about waiting, but God is never in a hurry—or so it seems. “God has His hour and delay,” suggests an old, reliable saying. Thus we wait.
Waiting is hard. We twiddle our thumbs, shuffle our feet, stifle our yawns, heave long sighs, and fret inwardly in frustration. Why must I live with this awkward person, this tedious job, this embarrassing behavior, this health issue that will not go away? Why doesn’t God come through?
God’s answer: “Wait awhile and see what I will do.”
Waiting is one of life’s best teachers for in it we learn the virtue of . . . well, waiting—waiting while God works in us and for us. It’s in waiting that we develop endurance, the ability to trust God’s love and goodness, even when things aren’t going our way (Psalm 70:5).
But waiting is not dreary, teeth-clenched resignation. We can “rejoice and be glad in [Him]” while we wait (v. 4). We wait in hope, knowing that God will deliver us in due time—in this world or in the next. God is never in a hurry, but He’s always on time.
Some years ago our sons and I spent a week on an abandoned backcountry ranch on the Salmon River, Idaho’s “River of No Return.”
One day, exploring the ranch, I came across an ancient grave with a wooden marker. Whatever inscription the marker may have borne had long since been weathered away. Someone lived and died—now was forgotten. The gravesite seemed tragic to me. After we got home I spent several hours reading about the history of the old ranch and that area, but could find no information about the person buried there.
They say that the best among us is remembered for 100 years or so. The rest of us are soon forgotten. The memory of past generations, like our markers, soon fades away. Yet our legacy has been passed on through the family of God. How we’ve loved God and others in our lifetime lives on. Malachi 3:16–17 tells us, “a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. ‘They will be Mine,’ says the
Paul said of David that he “served God’s purpose in his own generation” and departed (Acts 13:36). Like him, may we love the Lord and serve Him in our generation and leave the remembering to Him. “They will be Mine,” says the Lord.
As a boy, I watched my father plow fields that had never been cultivated. On the first pass the plowshare would turn up large rocks that he hauled away. Then, he would plow the field again, and then again, to further break up the soil. With each pass the plow turned up other, smaller rocks that he cast aside. The process continued, requiring many passes through the field.
Growth in grace can look like a similar process. When we first become believers, some “big” sins may be exposed. We confess them to God and accept His forgiveness. But as the years pass by, and as God’s Word passes through us and sinks into our innermost being, the Holy Spirit brings other sins to the surface. Sins of the spirit once thought to be mere peccadilloes—small, seemingly unimportant offenses—are revealed as ugly, ruinous attitudes and actions. Sins like pride, self-pity, complaining, pettiness, prejudice, spite, self-serving indulgence.
God reveals each sin so He can cast it aside. He reveals to heal. When harmful hidden attitudes come to the surface, we can pray as the psalmist David did, “For the sake of your name,
Humbling exposure, though painful, is good for the soul. It’s one of the ways in which He “instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (vv. 8–9).