One January morning I woke up expecting to see the same dreary mid-winter landscape that had greeted me for several weeks: beige grass poking through patches of snow, gray skies, and skeletal trees. Something unusual had happened overnight, though. A frost had coated everything outside with ice crystals. The lifeless and depressing landscape had become a beautiful scene that glistened in the sun and dazzled me.
Sometimes, we view problems without the imagination it takes to have faith. We expect pain, fear, and despair to greet us every morning, but overlook the possibility of something different ever happening. We don’t expect recovery, growth, or victory through God’s power. Yet the Bible says God is the one who helps us through difficult times. He repairs broken hearts and liberates people in bondage. He comforts the grieving with “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).
It isn’t that God just wants to cheer us up when we have problems. It’s that He Himself is our hope during trials. Even if we have to wait for the next life to find ultimate relief, God is present with us, encouraging us and often giving us glimpses of Himself. Lord, in our journey through life, may we come to understand St. Augustine’s words: “In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.”
At a museum, I lingered near a display of ancient lamps. A glance at some printed information revealed they were from Israel. Decorated with carved designs, these oval-shaped clay vessels had two openings—one for fuel, and one for a wick. Although the Israelites commonly used them in wall alcoves, each was small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand.
Perhaps a little light like this inspired King David to write a praise song in which he said, “You
The darkness David mentioned in his song likely involved fear of weakness, defeat, and death. Many of us live with similar worries, which produce anxiety and stress. When the darkness presses in on us, we can find peace because we know God is with us too. The divine flame of the Holy Spirit lives in us to light our path until we meet Jesus face to face.
The sound of a siren increased to an ear-piercing level as an emergency vehicle sped by my car. Its flashing lights glared through my windshield, illuminating the words “hazardous materials” printed on the side of the truck. Later, I learned it had been racing to a science laboratory where a 400-gallon container of sulfuric acid had begun to leak. Emergency workers had to contain the substance immediately because of its ability to damage whatever it came in contact with.
As I thought about this news story, I wondered what would happen if sirens blared every time a harsh or critical word “leaked” out of my mouth? Sadly, it might become rather noisy around our house.
The prophet Isaiah shared this sense of awareness about his sin. When he saw God’s glory in a vision, he was overcome by his unworthiness. He recognized that he was “a man of unclean lips” living with people who shared the same problem (Isaiah 6:5). What happened next gives me hope. An angel touched his lips with a red-hot coal, explaining, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (v. 7).
We have moment-by-moment choices to make with our words—both written and spoken. Will they be “hazardous” material, or will we allow God’s glory to convict us and His grace to heal us so we can honor Him with everything we express?
A friend gave me a houseplant she had owned for more than forty years. The plant was equal to my height, and it produced large leaves from three separate spindly trunks. Over time, the weight of the leaves had caused all three of the main stalks to curve down toward the floor. To straighten them, I put a wedge under the plant’s pot and placed it near a window so the sunlight could draw the leaves upward and help cure its bad posture.
Shortly after receiving the plant, I saw one just like it in a waiting room at a local business. It also grew from three long skinny stalks, but they had been braided together to form a larger, more solid core. This plant stood upright without any help.
Any two people may stay in the same “pot” for years, yet grow apart and experience fewer of the benefits God wants them to enjoy. When their lives are woven together with God, however, there is a greater sense of stability and closeness. Their relationship will grow stronger. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Like houseplants, marriages and friendships require some nurturing. Tending to these relationships involves merging spiritually so that God is present at the center of each important bond. He is an endless supply of love and grace—the things we need most to stay happily united with each other.
A technology-consulting firm hired me after college although I couldn’t write a line of computer code and had very little business knowledge. During the interview process for my entry-level position, I learned that the company did not place high value on work experience. Instead, personal qualities such as the ability to solve problems creatively, exercise good judgment, and work well with a team were more important. The company assumed new workers could be taught the necessary skills as long as they were the kind of people the company was looking for.
Noah didn’t have the right resume for the job of constructing the ark—He wasn’t a boat builder or even a carpenter. Noah was a farmer, a man comfortable with dirt on his shirt and a plow in his hands. Yet as God decided how to deal with the evil in the world at that time, Noah stood out because “he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9). God valued the teachableness of Noah’s heart—the strength to resist the corruption around him, and to do what was right.
When opportunities to serve God come our way, we may not feel qualified for the work. Thankfully, God is not necessarily concerned with our skill set. He prizes our character, love for Him, and willingness to trust Him. When these qualities are being developed inside us by the Spirit, He can use us in big or small ways to accomplish His will on earth.
When we first saw the stream in our backyard, it was just a thin vein of water trickling through a bed of rocks in the heat of the summer. Heavy wooden planks served as a bridge we could easily cross. Months later, torrents of rain pounded our area for several days in a row. Our tame little creek swelled into a quick-moving river four feet deep and ten feet wide! The force of this water heaved the bridgeboards up and deposited them several feet away.
Rushing water has the potential to overwhelm almost anything that stands in its path. Yet, there is something that is indestructible in the face of a flood or other forces that might threaten to destroy it—love. “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away” (Song of Solomon 8:7). Love’s persistent strength and intensity is often present in romantic relationships, but it’s only fully expressed in the love God has for people through His Son, Jesus Christ.
When the things we consider to be sturdy and dependable are swept away, our disappointment can open the door to a new understanding of God’s love for us. His affection is higher and deeper and stronger and longer lasting that anything on earth. Whatever we face, we face with Him beside us—holding us up, helping us along, and reminding us that we’re beloved.
A manager at a company in Brazil requested a short written report from the custodians in her building. Each day she wanted to know who cleaned each room, which rooms were left untouched, and how much time employees spent in each room. The first “daily” report arrived a week later, partially completed.
When the manager looked into the matter, she discovered most of the cleaning employees could not read. She could have fired them, but instead she arranged for them to have literacy lessons. Within five months, everyone was reading at a basic level and continued in their jobs.
God often uses our struggles as opportunities to equip us to continue working for Him. Peter’s life was marked by inexperience and mistakes. His faith faltered as he tried to walk on water. He wasn’t sure if Jesus should pay the temple tax (Matthew 17:24–27). He even rejected Jesus’s prophecy about the crucifixion and resurrection (16:21–23). Through each issue Jesus taught Peter more about who He was—the promised Messiah (v. 16). Peter listened and learned what he needed to know to help found the early church (v. 18).
If you’re discouraged by some failure today, remember that Jesus may use it to teach you and lead you forward in your service for Him. Jesus continued to work with Peter despite his shortcomings, and He can use you and me to continue to build His kingdom until He returns.
When Jesus was on this earth, He set an example for us. No matter how busy He was in His ministry, no matter how many people needed Him, He always took time to retreat into the wilderness to spend time with the Father. He knew, as Isaiah did, that “in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15…