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).
For three consecutive years, my son participated in a piano recital. The last year he played, I watched him mount the steps and set up his music. He played two songs and then sat down next to me and whispered, “Mom, this year the piano was smaller.” I said, “No, it’s the same piano you played last year. You’re bigger! You’ve grown.”
Spiritual growth, like physical growth, often happens slowly over time. It is an ongoing process that involves becoming more like Jesus, and it happens as we are transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
When the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we may become aware of sin in our lives. Wanting to honor God, we make an effort to change. Sometimes we experience success, but at other times, we try and fail. If it seems like nothing changes, we get discouraged. We may equate failure with a lack of progress, when it’s often proof that we are in the middle of the process.
Spiritual growth involves the Holy Spirit, our willingness to change, and time. At certain points in our lives, we may look back and see that we have grown spiritually. May God give us the faith to continue to believe that “He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
In the church I attend, a large cross stands at the front of the sanctuary. It represents the original cross where Jesus died—the place where our sin intersected with His holiness. There God allowed His perfect Son to die for the sake of every wrong thing we have ever done, said, or thought. On the cross, Jesus finished the work that was required to save us from the death we deserve (Rom. 6:23).
The sight of a cross causes me to consider what Jesus endured for us. Before being crucified, He was flogged and spit on. The soldiers hit Him in the head with sticks and got down on their knees in mock worship. They tried to make Him carry His own cross to the place where He would die, but He was too weak from the brutal flogging. At Golgotha, they hammered nails through His flesh to keep Him on the cross when they turned it upright. Those wounds bore the weight of His body as He hung there. Six hours later, Jesus took His final breath (v. 37). A centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (v. 39).
The next time you see the symbol of the cross, consider what it means to you. God’s Son suffered and died there and then rose again to make eternal life possible.
When a series of pink “I love you” signs mysteriously appeared in the town of Welland, Ontario, local reporter Maryanne Firth decided to investigate. Her sleuthing turned up nothing. Weeks later, new signs appeared featuring the name of a local park along with a date and time.
Accompanied by a crowd of curious townspeople, Firth went to the park at the appointed time. There, she met a man wearing a suit who had cleverly concealed his face. Imagine her surprise when he handed her a bouquet and proposed marriage! The mystery man was Ryan St. Denis—her boyfriend. She happily accepted.
St. Denis’s expression of love toward his fiancée may seem a bit over-the-top, but God’s expression of love for us is nothing short of extravagant! “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
Jesus is not merely a token of love, like a rose passed from one person to another. He is the divine human who willingly gave up His life so that anyone who believes in Him for salvation can have an everlasting covenant relationship with God. Nothing can separate a Christian “from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”
Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).
In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.
Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.