Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some schoolchildren in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on fruit, which the kids dubbed, “talking bananas.”
This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’s heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.
New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They are full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often, the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.
Those of us who have walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard the Christian life can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth.
Late one Saturday afternoon, my family and I stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. As the waiter set crispy fries and thick burgers on our table, my husband glanced up and asked his name. Then he said, “We pray as a family before we eat. Is there something we can pray for you about today?” Allen, whose name we now knew, looked at us with a mixture of surprise and anxiety. A short silence followed before he told us that he was sleeping on his friend’s couch each night, his car had just quit working, and he was broke.
As my husband quietly asked God to provide for Allen and show him His love, I thought about how our go-between prayer was similar to what happens when the Holy Spirit takes up our cause and connects us with God. In our moments of greatest need—when we realize we’re no match to handle life on our own, when don’t know how to say this to God, “The Spirit intercedes for God’s people” (Romans 8:27). What the Spirit says is a mystery, but we’re assured that it always fits with God’s will for our lives.
The next time you pray for God’s guidance, provision, and protection in someone else’s life, let that act of kindness remind you that your spiritual needs are also being lifted to God who knows your name and cares about your problems.
Finn, a colorful Siamese Fighting Fish, lived at our house for two years. During that time my young daughter would often bend down and talk with him after dropping food into his tank. When the topic of pets came up in kindergarten, she proudly claimed him as her own. Eventually, Finn passed away, and my daughter was heartbroken.
After our fish expired, my mother advised me to listen to closely to my daughter’s feelings and tell her, “God knows all about it.” I agreed that God knows everything, yet wondered, How will that be comforting? Then it occurred to me that God isn’t simply aware of the events in our lives. With compassion He sees into our souls and knows how they affect us personally. He understands that “little things” can feel like big things depending on our age, past wounds, or lack of resources.
Jesus saw the real size of a widow’s tithe and her heart as she dropped two coins into a temple collection box. He described what it meant for her as He said, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. . . . She [put in] all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
The widow kept quiet about her situation but Jesus recognized that what others considered a tiny donation was a sobering sacrifice to her. He sees our lives in the same way. May we find comfort in His limitless understanding.
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.