A nursery owner set out to sell peach trees. She considered various approaches. Should she line up leafy saplings in burlap sacks in a beautiful display? Should she create a colorful catalog picturing peach trees in various seasons of growth? At last she realized what really sells a peach tree. It’s the peach it produces: sweet-smelling, deep orange, and fuzzy-skinned. The best way to sell a peach tree is to pluck a ripe peach, cut it open until the juice dribbles down your arm, and hand a slice to a customer. When they taste the fruit, they want the tree.
God reveals Himself in a wrapper of spiritual fruit in His followers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). When we believers in Jesus exhibit such fruit, others around us want that fruit as well, and therefore the Source of the fruit that is so attractive.
Fruit is the external result of an internal relationship, the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Fruit is the dressing that beckons others to know the God we represent. Like the bright peaches standing out against the green leaves of a tree, the fruit of the Spirit announces to a starving world, “Here is food! Here is life! Come and find a way out of exhaustion and discouragement. Come and meet God!”
When my baby brother underwent surgery, I was concerned. My mother explained that “tongue-tie” (ankyloglossia) was a condition he was born with and that without help, his ability to eat and eventually to speak would be hindered. Today we often apply the term to describe being at a loss for words or being too shy to speak.
Sometimes we can be tongue-tied in prayer, not knowing what to say. Our tongues tie up in spiritual clichés and repetitive phrases. We arrow our emotions heavenward, wondering if they will reach God’s ears. Our thoughts zigzag along an unfocused path.
Writing to first-century Roman Christians, the apostle Paul addresses what to do when we struggle to know how to pray, inviting us to find help from the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). The concept of “help” here is to carry a heavy load. And “wordless groans” indicates an interceding presence as the Spirit carries our needs to God.
When we’re tongue-tied in prayer, God’s Spirit helps shape our confusion, pain, and distraction into the perfect prayer that moves from our hearts to our good God’s ears. He listens and answers, bringing the exact kind of comfort we may not have known we needed until we asked Him to pray for us.
“I’m sorry,” Karen said, apologizing for her flowing tears. After the death of her husband, she stretched herself to care for her teenage kids. When men from church provided a weekend camping excursion to entertain them and give her a break, Karen wept with gratitude, apologizing over and over for her tears.
Why do so many of us apologize for our tears? Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to dinner. In the middle of the meal, as Jesus reclined at the table, a woman who had lived a sinful life brought an alabaster jar of perfume. “As she stood behind [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:37–38). Unapologetically, this woman freely emoted and then unwound her hair to dry Jesus’ feet. Overflowing with gratitude and love for Jesus, she topped off her tears with perfumed kisses—actions that contrasted with those of her proper but cold-hearted host.
Jesus’ response? He praised her exuberant expression of love and proclaimed her “forgiven” (vv. 44–48).
We may be tempted to squelch tears of gratitude when they threaten to overflow. But God made us emotional beings and we can use our feelings to honor Him. Like the woman in Luke’s gospel, let’s unapologetically express our love for our good God who provides for our needs and freely receives our thankful response.
I helped my elderly dog, Wilson, out to the grass and in the process, released the leash of our younger dog, Coach, for just a minute. As I bent to pick up Coach’s lead, he spied a bunny. Off he went, ripping the leash from my right hand and corkscrewing my ring finger in the process. I fell to the grass and cried out in pain.
After returning from urgent care and learning I’d need surgery, I begged God for help. “I’m a writer! How will I type? What about my daily duties?” As God sometimes does, He spoke to me from my daily Bible reading. “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). I scanned the context, which indicated that God’s people in Judah, to whom Isaiah was communicating His message, enjoyed a special relationship with Him. He promised His presence, strength, and help through His own righteous standing, symbolized by His right hand (v. 10). Elsewhere in Scripture God’s right hand is used to secure victories for His people (Psalm 17:7; 98:1).
During my weeks of recovery, I experienced encouragement from God as I learned to dictate on my computer and trained my left hand in household and grooming functions. From God’s righteous right hand to our broken and needy right hands, God promises to be with us and to help us.
When Hugh and DeeDee released their only child to heaven, they struggled with what to call themselves in the aftermath. There is no specific word in the English language to describe a parent who has lost a child. A wife without her husband is a widow. A husband without his wife is a widower. A child bereft of parents is an orphan. A parent whose child has died before they have is an undefined hollow of hurt.
Miscarriage. Sudden infant death. Suicide. Illness. Accident. Death steals a child from this world and then robs the surviving parents of an expressed identity.
Yet God Himself knows such devastating grief as His only Son, Jesus, called to Him while dying on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). God was Father before Jesus’ earthly birth and remained Father when Jesus released His final breath. God continued as Father when the still body of His Son was laid in a tomb. God lives on today as Father of a risen Son who brings every parent the hope that a child can live again.
What do you call a heavenly Father who sacrifices His Son for the universe? For you and for me? Father. Still, Father. When there are no words in the glossary of grief to describe the pain of loss, God is our Father and calls us His children (1 John 3:1).
When I served on my church’s congregational care team, one of my duties was to pray over the requests penciled on pew cards during the services. For an aunt’s health. For a couple’s finances. For a grandson’s discovery of God. Rarely did I hear the results of these prayers. Most were anonymous and I had no way of knowing how God had responded. I confess that at times I wondered, was He really listening? Was anything happening as a result of my prayers?
Over our lifetimes, most of us question, “Does God hear me?” I remember my own Hannah-like pleas for a child that went unanswered for years. And there were my pleas that my father find faith, yet he died without any apparent confession.
Etched across the millennia are myriad instances of God’s ear bending to listen: to Israel’s groans under slavery (Exodus 2:24); to Moses on Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 9:19); to Joshua at Gilgal (Joshua 10:14); to Hannah’s prayers for a child (1 Samuel 1:10–17;) to David crying out for deliverance from Saul (2 Samuel 22:7).
First John 5:14 crescendos, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” The word for “hears” means to pay attention and to respond on the basis of having heard.
As we go to God today, may we have the confidence of His listening ear spanning the history of His people. He hears our pleas.
The clock blinked 1:55 a.m. Burdened by a late-night text conversation, sleep wasn’t coming. I unwound the mummy-like clutch of my tangled sheets and padded quietly to the couch. I googled what to do to fall asleep but instead found what not to do: Don’t take a nap or drink caffeine or work out late in the day. Check. Reading further on my tablet, I was advised not to use “screen time” late either. Oops. Texting hadn’t been a good idea. When it comes to resting well, there are lists of what not to do.
In the Old Testament, God handed down rules regarding what not to do on the Sabbath in order to embrace rest. In the New Testament, Jesus offered a new way. Rather than stressing regulations, Jesus called the disciples into relationship. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In the preceding verse, Jesus pointed to His own ongoing relationship of oneness with His Father—the Father He’s revealed to us. The provision of ongoing help Jesus enjoyed from the Father is one we can experience as well.
While we’re wise to avoid certain pastimes that can interrupt our sleep, resting well in Christ has more to do with relationship than regulation. I clicked my reader off and laid my burdened heart down on the pillow of Jesus’ invitation: “Come . . .”
Ellen opened her mailbox and discovered a bulky envelope with her dear friend’s return address. Just a few days prior, she’d shared a relational struggle with that friend. Curious, she unwrapped the package and found a colorful beaded necklace on a simple jute string. Attached was a card with a company’s slogan, “Say it in Morse Code,” and words translating the necklace’s hidden and wise message, “Seek God’s Ways.” Ellen smiled as she fastened it about her neck.
The book of Proverbs is a compilation of wise sayings—many penned by Solomon, who was acclaimed as the wisest man of his era (1 Kings 10:23). Its thirty-one chapters call the reader to listen to wisdom and avoid folly, starting with the core message of 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Wisdom—knowing what to do when—comes from honoring God by seeking His ways. In the introductory verses, we read, “Listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8 nlt).
Ellen’s friend had directed her to the Source of the wisdom she needed: Seek God’s ways. Her gift focused Ellen’s attention on where to discover the help she needed.
When we honor God and seek His ways, we’ll receive the wisdom we need for all the matters we face in life. Each and every one.
Thwack! I looked up and craned my ear toward the sound. Spotting a smudge on the windowpane, I peered out onto the deck and discovered the still beating body of a bird. My heart hurt. I longed to help the fragile feathered being.
In Matthew 10, Jesus described His Father’s care for sparrows in order to comfort the disciples as He warned of upcoming dangers. He offered instructions to the twelve as He “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (v. 1). While the power to do such deeds might have seemed grand to the disciples, many would oppose them including governing authorities, their own families, and the ensnaring grip of the evil one (vv. 16–28).
Then in 10:29–31, Jesus told them not to fear, whatever they faced, because they would never be out of their Father’s care. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” He asked. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
I checked on the bird throughout the day, each time finding it alive but unmoved. Then, late into the evening, it was gone. I prayed it had survived. Surely, if I cared this much about the bird, God cared even more. Imagine how much He cares for you and me!