I bow my head, close my eyes, lace my fingers together and begin to pray. “Dear Lord, I’m coming to you today as your child. I recognize your power and goodness. . .” Suddenly, my eyes snap open. I remember that my son hasn’t finished his history project, which is due the next day. I recall that he has an after-school basketball game, and I imagine him awake until midnight finishing his schoolwork. This leads me to worry that his fatigue will put him at risk for the flu!
C.S. Lewis wrote about distractions during prayer in his book The Screwtape Letters. He noted that when our minds wander, we tend to use willpower to steer ourselves back to our original prayer. Lewis concluded, though, that it was better to accept “the distraction as [our] present problem and [lay] that before [God] and make it the main theme of [our] prayers.”
A persistent worry or even a sinful thought that disrupts a prayer may become the centerpiece of our discussion with God. God wants us to be real as we talk with Him and open up about our deepest concerns, fears, and struggles. He is not surprised by anything we mention. His interest in us is like the attention we would receive from a close friend. That’s why we are encouraged to give all of our worries and cares to God—because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Just one week before her scheduled wedding date, Sarah’s engagement ended. Despite her sadness and disappointment, she decided not to waste the food she had purchased for her wedding reception. She did, however, decide to change the celebration plans. She took down the gift table and revamped the guest list, inviting the residents of local homeless shelters to the feast.
Jesus upheld this sort of no-strings-attached kindness when speaking to the Pharisees, saying, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13–14). He noted that the blessing would come from God because these guests would not be able to repay the host. Jesus approved of helping people who couldn’t supply charity donations, sparkling conversation, or social connections.
When we consider that Jesus spoke these words as He sat at a meal given by a Pharisee, His message seems provocative and radical. But real love is radical. I’ve heard it said that love is giving to meet the needs of others without expecting anything in return. This is how Jesus has loved each of us. He saw our inner poverty and responded by giving His life for us.
Knowing Christ personally is a journey into His infinite love. All of us are invited to explore “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18).
To celebrate a special occasion, my husband took me to a local art gallery and said I could choose a painting as a gift. I picked out a small picture of a brook flowing through a forest. The streambed took up most of the canvas, and because of this much of the sky was excluded from the picture. However, the stream’s reflection revealed the location of the sun, the treetops, and the hazy atmosphere. The only way to “see” the sky was to look at the surface of the water.
Jesus is like the stream, in a spiritual sense. When we want to see what God is like, we look at Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that He is “the exact representation of [God’s] being” (1:3). Although we can learn facts about God through direct statements in the Bible such as “God is love,” we can deepen our understanding by seeing the way God would act if He faced the same problems we have on earth. Being God in human flesh, this is what Jesus has shown us.
In temptation, Jesus revealed God’s holiness. Confronting spiritual darkness, He demonstrated God’s authority. Wrestling with people problems, He showed us God’s wisdom. In His death, He illustrated God’s love.
Although we cannot grasp everything about God—He is limitless and we are limited in our thinking—we can be certain of His character when we look at Christ.
Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with onlookers by a dirt road. The woman behind you is on her tiptoes, trying to see who is coming. In the distance, you glimpse a man riding a donkey. As He approaches, people toss their coats onto the road. Suddenly, you hear a tree crack behind you. A man is cutting down palm branches, and people are spreading them out ahead of the donkey.
Jesus’s followers zealously honored Him as He entered Jerusalem a few days before His crucifixion. The multitude rejoiced and praised God for “all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37). Jesus’ devotees surrounded Him, calling out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (v. 38). Their enthusiastic honor affected the people of Jerusalem. When Jesus finally arrived, “the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ ” (Matthew 21:10).
Today, people are still curious about Jesus. Although we can’t pave His way with palm branches or shout praises to Him in person, we can still honor Him. We can discuss His remarkable works, assist people in need, patiently bear insults, and love each other deeply. Then we must be ready to answer the onlookers who ask, “Who is Jesus?”
On a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I saw a masterpiece called “The Wind.” The painting showed a storm moving through a wooded area. Tall, thin trees leaned to the left. Bushes thrashed in the same direction
In an even more powerful sense, the Holy Spirit is able to sway believers in the direction of God’s goodness and truth. If we go along with the Spirit, we can expect to become more courageous and more loving. We will also become more discerning about how to handle our desires (2 Tim. 1:7).
In some situations, however, the Spirit nudges us toward spiritual growth and change, but we respond with a “no.” Continually stonewalling this conviction is what Scripture calls “quench[ing] the spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Over time, things we once considered wrong appear not to be quite as bad.
When our relationship with God seems distant and disconnected, this may be because the Spirit’s conviction has been repeatedly brushed aside. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to see the root of the problem. Thankfully, we can pray and ask God to show us our sin. If we turn away from sin and recommit ourselves to Him, God will forgive us and revive the power and influence of His Spirit within us.
John Babler is the chaplain for the police and fire departments in his Texas community. During a 22-week sabbatical from his job, he attended police academy training so that he could better understand the situations law enforcement officers face. Through spending time with the other cadets and learning about the intense challenges of the profession, Babler gained a new sense of humility and empathy. In the future, he hopes to be more effective as he counsels police officers who struggle with emotional stress, fatigue, and loss.
We know that God understands the situations we face because He made us and sees everything that happens to us. We also know He understands because He has been to earth and experienced life as a human being. “He became flesh and dwelt among us” as the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Jesus’s earthly life included a wide range of difficulty. He felt the searing heat of the sun, the pain of an empty stomach, and the uncertainty of homelessness. Emotionally, He endured the tension of disagreements, the burn of betrayal, and the ongoing threat of violence.
Jesus experienced the joys of friendship and family love, as well as the worst problems that we face here on earth. He provides hope. He is the Wonderful Counselor who patiently listens to our concerns with insight and care (Isaiah 9:6). He is the One who can say, “I’ve been through that. I understand.”
When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562
Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.
Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.
Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.
What would you do if the Lord showed up in the middle of your workday with a message of encouragement? This happened to Gideon, one of the ancient Israelites. “The angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and said, ‘Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!’ ” Gideon could have responded with a wordless nod and gulp, but instead he said, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judg. 6:12–13 nlt). Gideon wanted to know why it seemed as if God had abandoned His people.
God didn’t answer that question. After Gideon had endured seven years of enemy attacks, starvation, and hiding in caves, God didn’t explain why He never intervened. God could have revealed Israel’s past sin as the reason, but instead He gave Gideon hope for the future. God said, “Go with the strength you have . . . . I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites” (vv.14, 16 nlt).
Do you ever wonder why God has allowed suffering in your life? Instead of answering that specific question, God may satisfy you with His nearness today and remind you that you can rely on His strength when you feel weak. When Gideon finally believed that God was with him and would help him, he built an altar and called it “The Lord Is Peace” (v. 24).
There is peace in knowing that whatever we do and wherever we go, we go with God who promised never to leave or forsake His followers
One morning in Perth, Australia, Fionn Mulholland discovered his car was missing. That’s when he realized he had mistakenly parked in a restricted zone and his car had been towed away. After considering the situation—even the $600 towing and parking fine—Mulholland was frustrated, but he decided not to be angry with the person he would work with to retrieve his car. Instead of venting his feelings, Mulholland wrote a humorous poem about the situation and read it to the worker he met at the tow yard. The worker liked the poem, and a possible ugly confrontation never took place.
The book of Proverbs teaches, “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife” (20:3). Strife is that interpersonal friction that either simmers under the surface or explodes in the open between people who disagree about something.
God has given us the resources to live peacefully with other people. His Word assures us that it’s possible to feel anger without letting it boil over into rage (Eph. 4:26). His Spirit enables us to override the sparks of fury that prompt us to do and say things to strike out at people who upset us. And, God has given us His example to follow when we feel provoked (1 Peter 2:23). He is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ps. 86:15).