During a landscape painting class I took, the teacher, a highly experienced professional artist, assessed my first assignment. He stood silently in front of my painting, one hand cupping his chin. Here we go, I thought. He’s going to say it’s terrible.
But he didn’t.
He said he liked the color scheme and the feeling of openness. Then he mentioned that the trees in the distance could be lightened. A cluster of weeds needed softer edges. He had the authority to criticize my work based on the rules of perspective and color, yet his critique was truthful and kind.
Jesus, who was perfectly qualified to condemn people for their sin, didn’t use the Ten Commandments to crush a Samaritan woman He met at an ancient watering hole. He gently critiqued her life with just a handful of statements. The result was that she saw how her search for satisfaction had led her into sin. Building on this awareness, Jesus revealed Himself as the only source of eternal satisfaction (John 4:10-13).
The combination of grace and truth that Jesus used in this situation is what we experience in our relationship with Him (John 1:17). His grace prevents us from being overwhelmed by our sin, and His truth prevents us from thinking it isn’t a serious matter.
Will we invite Jesus to show us areas of our lives where we need to grow so we can become more like Him?
When a man installed a security camera outside his house, he checked the video feature to ensure that the system was working. He was alarmed to see a broad-shouldered figure in dark clothing wandering around his yard. He watched intently to see what the man would do. Somehow, though, the interloper seemed familiar. Finally he realized he was not watching a stranger roam his property, but a recording of himself in his own back yard!
What might we see if we could step out of our skin and observe ourselves in certain situations? When David’s heart was hardened and he needed an outside perspective—a godly perspective—on his involvement with Bathsheba, God sent Nathan to the rescue (2 Samuel 12).
Nathan told David a story about a rich man who robbed a poor man of his only lamb. Though the rich man owned herds of animals, he slaughtered the poor man’s lamb and made it into a meal. When Nathan revealed that the story illustrated David’s actions, David saw how he had harmed Uriah. Nathan explained the consequences, but more important he assured David, “The
If, through accountability with others, God reveals sin in our lives, His ultimate purpose is not to condemn us, but to restore us and to help us reconcile with those we’ve hurt. Repentance clears the way for renewed closeness with God through the power of His forgiveness and grace.
Working in the corporate world allowed me to interact with many talented and levelheaded people. However, one project led by an out-of-town supervisor was an exception. Regardless of our team’s progress, this manager harshly criticized our work and demanded more effort during each weekly status phone call. These run-ins left me discouraged and fearful. At times, I wanted to quit.
It’s possible that Moses felt like quitting when he encountered Pharaoh during the plague of darkness. God had hurled eight other epic disasters at Egypt, and Pharaoh finally exploded, “[Moses,] get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again. The day you see my face you will die” (Exodus 10:28).
Despite this threat, Moses eventually was used by God to free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s control. “[By faith] Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27 nlt). Moses overcame Pharaoh by believing that God would keep his promise of deliverance (Exodus 3:17).
Today, we can rely on the promise that God is with us in every situation, supporting us through His Holy Spirit. He helps us resist the pressure of intimidation and wrong responses to it by granting us supernatural power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spirit provides the courage we need to keep right on going and follow God’s leading in our lives.
On a winter day, my children begged to go sledding. The temperature hovered near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Snowflakes raced by our windows. I thought it over and said yes, but asked them to bundle up, stay together, and come inside after fifteen minutes.
Out of love, I created those rules so my children could play freely without suffering frostbite. I think the author of Psalm 119 recognized the same good intent in God as he penned two consecutive verses that might seem contradictory: “I will always obey your law” and “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (vv. 44–45). How is it that the psalmist associated freedom with a spiritually law-abiding life?
After a spinal injury left Marty paralyzed, he decided to go back to school to earn his MBA. Marty’s mother, Judy, helped make his goal a reality. She sat with him through every lecture and study group, jotting notes and handling technology issues. She even assisted him onto the platform when he received his diploma. What might have been unattainable became possible with the consistent, practical help Marty received.
Jesus knew His followers would need a similar kind of support after He left the earth. When He told them about His upcoming absence, He said they would gain a new kind of connection with God through the Holy Spirit. This Spirit would be a moment-by-moment helper—a teacher and guide who would not only live with them but also be in them (John 14:17, 26).
The Spirit would provide Jesus’s disciples with internal help from God, which would enable them to endure what they could not handle on their own as they fanned out to share the good news. In moments of struggle, the Spirit would remind them of everything Jesus said to them (v. 26): Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . Love one another . . . I am the resurrection and the life.
Are you facing something that exceeds your own strength and ability? You can depend on the Spirit’s constant help. God’s Spirit working in you will bring Him the glory He deserves.
A man filed a lawsuit against a woman, claiming she had his dog. In court, the woman said her dog couldn’t be his dog because she had purchased the five-year-old canine on the street. Although the plaintiff said his dog was younger, the real owner’s identity was revealed when the judge released the animal in the courtroom. Tail wagging, it immediately ran to the plaintiff!
Solomon, a judge in ancient Israel needed to settle a somewhat similar issue. Two women each claimed to be the mother of the same baby boy. After considering both arguments, he requested a sword to divide the infant in half. The real mother begged Solomon to give the baby to the other woman, choosing to save her son’s life even if she could not have him (1 Kings 3:26). Solomon gave the baby to her.
Wisdom is necessary input as we decide what’s fair and moral, right and wrong.. If we truly value wisdom, we can ask God for a discerning heart, like Solomon did (v. 9). God may answer our request by helping us balance our needs and desires with the interests of others. He may also help us weigh short-term benefits against long-term (sometimes eternal) gains so we can honor Him in how we live.
Our God is not only a perfectly wise judge, but He is also a personal counselor who is willing to give us godly wisdom in great amounts (James 1:5).
Swimming with friends in the Gulf of Mexico, Caitlyn encountered a shark, which grabbed her legs and pulled at her body. To counter the attack, Caitlyn punched the shark in the nose. The predator unclenched its jaws and swam away in defeat. Although its bite caused multiple wounds, which required over 100 stitches, the shark was unable to keep Caitlyn in its grasp.
This story reminds me of the fact that Jesus delivered a blow to death, ending its power to intimidate and defeat His followers. According to Peter, “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on [Jesus]” (Acts 2:24).
Peter said these words to a crowd in Jerusalem. Perhaps many of them had been the ones yelling out, “Crucify him!” to condemn Jesus (Matthew 27:23). As a result, Roman soldiers fastened Him to a cross where He hung until they confirmed He was dead. Jesus’s body was carried to a tomb where it stayed for three days until God resurrected Him. After His resurrection, Peter and others spoke and ate with Him, and after forty days they watched Him ascend into heaven (v. 32).
Jesus’s life on earth ended amidst physical suffering and mental anguish, yet God’s power defeated the grave. Because of this, death—or any other struggle—lacks the ability to keep us in its grip forever. One day all believers will experience everlasting life and wholeness in God’s presence. Focusing on this future can help us find freedom today.
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).