My grandson ran to the roller coaster line and stood with his back against the height-requirement sign to see if he was big enough to ride. He squealed with joy when his head exceeded the mark.
So much of life is about being “big” enough, isn’t it? To move from car seat to seatbelt and from the back seat to the front. To take a driver’s test. To vote. To get married. Like my grandson, we can spend our lives longing to grow up.
In New Testament times, children were loved but not highly valued in society until they “became of age” and could contribute to the home and enter the synagogue with adult privileges. Jesus shattered the standards of His day by welcoming the impoverished, the diseased, and even children. Three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell of parents bringing little children to Jesus so that He might lay hands on them and pray for them (Matthew 19:13).
The disciples rebuked the adults at what they saw as inconvenience. At this, Jesus was “indignant” (Mark 10:14) and opened His arms to the little ones. He elevated their value in His kingdom and challenged all to become like children themselves—to embrace their vulnerability and need for Him in order to know Him (Luke 18:17). It’s our childlike need that makes us “big” enough to receive His love.
Just outside my kitchen window, a robin built her nest under the eaves of our patio roof. I loved watching her tuck grasses into a safe spot and then hunker down to incubate the eggs. Each morning I checked her progress but each morning, there was nothing. Robin eggs take two weeks to hatch.
Such impatience isn’t new for me. I’ve always strained against the work of waiting, especially in prayer. My husband and I waited nearly five years to adopt our first child. Decades ago, author Catherine Marshall wrote, “Prayers, like eggs, don’t hatch as soon as we lay them.”
The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with waiting in prayer. Frustrated at God’s silence with Babylon’s brutal mistreatment of the southern kingdom of Judah, Habakkuk commits to “stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts,” to “look to see what he will say to me” (Habakkuk 2:1). The Lord replies that Habakkuk is to wait for the “appointed time” (v. 3) and directs Habakkuk to “write down the revelation” so the word can be spread as soon as it’s given (v. 2).
What God doesn’t mention is that the “appointed time” when Babylon falls will be six decades away, creating a long gap between promise and fulfillment. Like eggs, prayers often don’t hatch immediately but rather incubate in God’s overarching purposes for our world and our lives.
As a middle-schooler, Patrick Ireland first sensed God had chosen him for something. But what? Later as a survivor of the horrific Columbine High School massacre where thirteen were killed and twenty-four wounded, including Patrick, he began to understand an answer.
Through his long recovery, Patrick learned that clinging to bitterness causes further wounding. God showed Patrick that the key to forgiveness is to stop focusing on what others have done to us and to focus on what Jesus has done for us. Christ’s words on the cross toward His tormenters, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy of Luke 1:77. Additionally, the example of Jesus revealed a purpose for Patrick, and twenty years after the tragedy, Patrick shared, “Maybe I was chosen to forgive.”
While most of us will not endure an unimaginable calamity such as the one committed at Columbine, each of us has been wronged in some way. A spouse betrays. A child rebels. An employer abuses. How do we move forward? Perhaps we look to the example of our Savior. In the face of rejection and cruelty, He forgave. It is through Jesus’s forgiveness of our sins that we, ourselves, find salvation, which includes the ability to forgive others. And like Patrick, we can choose to let go of our bitterness to open our hearts to forgiveness.
If you were to play the part of Jesus in a movie, how would you approach the role? That was the challenge faced by Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in the 1993 Visual Bible movie Matthew. Knowing that millions of viewers would draw conclusions about Jesus based on his work, the weight of getting Christ “right” felt overwhelming. He fell to his knees in prayer and begged Jesus for—well, for Jesus.
Bruce gained insight from the first chapter of Hebrews, where the writer tells us how God the Father set the Son apart by anointing Him “with the oil of joy” (1:9). This kind of joy is one of celebration—a gladness of connection to the Father expressed whole-heartedly. Such joy ruled in Jesus’s heart throughout His life. As Hebrews 12:2 describes it, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Taking his cue from this Scriptural expression, Bruce offered a uniquely joy-filled portrayal of his Savior. As a result, he became known as “The Smiling Jesus.”
We too can dare to fall to our knees and “beg Jesus for Jesus.” May He so fill us with His character that people around us see the expression of His love in us!
Every coin has two sides. The front is called “heads” and, from early Roman times, usually depicts a country’s head of state. The back is called “tails,” a term possibly originating from the British ten pence depicting the raised tail of a heraldic lion.
Like a coin, Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, possesses two sides. In the deepest hours of His life the night before He went to die on a cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup, yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). When Jesus says, “take this cup,” that’s the raw honesty of prayer. He reveals his own desire, “This is what I want.”
Then Jesus turns the coin, praying “not my will.” That’s the side of abandon. Abandoning ourselves to God begins when we simply say, “But what do You want, God?”
This two-sided prayer is included in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22, and mentioned in John 18. Jesus prayed both sides of prayer: take this cup (what I want, God), yet not my will (what do you want, God?), pivoting between them.
Two sides of Jesus. Two sides of prayer. The Prayer Coin.
As a young woman, I imagined myself married to my high school sweetheart—until we broke up. My future yawned emptily before me and I struggled with what to do with my life. At last I sensed God leading me to serve Him by serving others and enrolled in seminary. Then the reality crashed through that I’d be moving away from my roots, friends, and family. In order to respond to God’s call, I had to leave.
Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee when He saw Peter and his brother Andrew casting nets into the sea, fishing for a living. He invited them to “Come, follow me . . . and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). Then Jesus saw two other fishermen, James and his brother John and offered them a similar invitation (v. 21).
When we see the first disciples coming to Jesus, we also see them leaving something. Peter and Andrew “left their nets” (v. 20). James and John “left the boat and their father and followed him” (vv. 21–22). Luke puts it this way: “So they pulled their nets up on the shore, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11, emphasis added).
Every call to Jesus also includes a call from something else. Net. Boat. Father. Friends. Home. God calls all of us to a relationship with Himself. Then He calls each of us to serve.
She’d called. She’d texted. Now Carla stood outside her brother’s gated entry, unable to rouse him to answer. Burdened with depression and fighting addiction, her brother had hidden himself away in his home, walled off from help. In a desperate attempt to penetrate his isolation, Carla gathered several of his favorite foods along with encouraging Scriptures and lowered the bundle over the fence.
But as the package left her grip, it snagged on one of the gate spikes, tearing an opening and sending its contents onto the gravel below. Her well-intended, love-filled offering spilled out in seeming waste. Would her brother even notice her gift? Would it accomplish the mission of hope she’d intended? She can only hope and pray as she waits for his healing.
God so loved the world that—in essence—He lowered His one and only Son over the wall of our sin, bringing gifts of love and healing into our weary and withdrawn world (John 3:16). The prophet Isaiah predicted the cost of this act of love in Isaiah 53:5. This very Son would be “pierced for our transgressions, . . . crushed for our iniquities.” His wounds would bring the hope of ultimate healing. He took on Himself “the iniquity of us all” (v. 6).
Pierced by spikes for our sin and need, God’s gift of Jesus enters our days today with fresh power and perspective. What does His gift mean to you?
“Hatred corrodes the container that carries it.” These words were spoken by former Senator Alan Simpson at the funeral of George H.W. Bush. Attempting to describe his dear friend’s kindness, Senator Simpson recalled how the 41st president of the United States embraced humor and love rather than hatred in his professional leadership and personal relationships.
I relate to the senator’s quote, don’t you? Oh, the damage done to me when I harbor hatred!
Medical research reveals the damage done to our bodies when we cling to the negative or release bursts of anger. Our blood pressure rises. Our hearts pound. Our spirits sag. Our containers corrode.
In Proverbs 10:12, King Solomon observes, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” The conflict that results from hatred here is a blood feud between rivaling peoples of different tribes and races. Such hatred fuels the drive for revenge so that people who despise each other can’t connect.
By contrast, God’s way of love covers—draws a veil over, conceals, or forgives—all wrongs. That doesn’t mean we overlook errors or enable a wrongdoer. But we don’t nurse the wrong when someone is truly remorseful. And if they never apologize, we still release our feelings to God. We who know the Great Lover are to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
One Christmas, my grandmother gave me a beautiful pearl necklace. The lustrous globes glowed about my neck until one day the string broke. Balls bounced in all directions off our home’s hardwood flooring. Crawling over the planks, I recovered each tiny orb. On their own, they were small. But oh, when strung together, those pearls made such an impression!
Sometimes my yeses to God seem so insignificant—like those individual pearls. I compare myself to Mary, the mother of Jesus who was so fantastically obedient. She said yes when she embraced God’s call for her to carry the Messiah. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said’” (Luke 1:38). Did she understand all that would be required of her? That an even bigger yes to relinquishing her Son on the cross loomed ahead?
After the visits of the angels and shepherds, Luke 2:19 tells us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Treasure means to “store up.” Ponder means to “thread together.” The phrase is repeated of Mary in Luke 2:51. She would respond with many yeses over her lifetime.
As with Mary, the key to our obedience might be a threading together of various yeses to our Father’s invitations, one at a time, until they string into the treasure of a surrendered life.