“You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.” If you hear those words, you might wonder if the person really means it. But you never had to wonder when Edna Davis said them. Everyone in the small, one stoplight town knew of “Ms. Edna’s” yellow legal pad—page after page, lined with name after name. Early each morning the aging woman prayed out loud to God. Not everyone on her list received the answer to prayer they wanted, but several testified at her funeral that something God-sized had happened in their life, and they credited it to the earnest prayers of Ms. Edna.
God demonstrated the power of prayer in Peter’s prison experience. After the apostle was seized by Herod’s men, thrown into prison, and then “guarded by four squads of four soldiers each” (Acts 12:4), his prospects looked bleak. But “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (v. 5). They had Peter in their thoughts and prayers. What God did is simply miraculous! An angel appeared to Peter in prison, released him from his chains, and led him to safety beyond the prison gates (vv. 7–10).
It’s possible some may use “thoughts and prayers” without really meaning it. But our Father knows our thoughts, listens to our prayers, and acts on our behalf according to His perfect will. To be prayed for and to pray for others is no small thing when we serve the great and powerful God.
“Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?” That’s the familiar line at the end of the game show To Tell the Truth. A panel of four celebrities ask questions of three individuals claiming to be the same person. Of course, two are impostors, but it’s up to the panel to discern the actual person. In one challenging episode, the celebrities tried to guess “the real Johnny Marks,” who wrote the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The celebrities found out just how difficult it is, even with asking good questions, to figure out just who’s who. Impostors lie and finagle the truth, which makes for entertaining television.
Discerning who’s who when it comes to “false teachers” is a far cry from television game show antics, but it frequently proves to be equally as challenging and infinitely more important. The “ferocious wolves” often come to us in “sheep’s clothing,” and Jesus warns even the wise among us to “watch out” (Matthew 7:15). The best test in such cases is not so much good questions, but good eyes. Look at their fruit, for that’s how you’ll recognize them (vv. 16–20).
Scripture gives us some assistance in seeing good and bad fruit. The good looks like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). We’ve got to pay close attention, for wolves play by deception. But as believers, who are filled with the Spirit, we serve “the real Good Shepherd,” full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
The day finally came—the day I realized my father wasn’t indestructible. As a boy, I knew his strength and determination. But in my early adult years, he injured his back, and I realized that my father was mortal after all. I stayed with my parents to help my dad to the bathroom, assisting him in dressing, even guiding a glass of water to his mouth—it was humbling to him. He made some initial attempts to accomplish small tasks, but admitted, “I can’t do anything without your help.” He eventually recovered to his strong self, but that experience taught both of us an important lesson. We need each other.
And while we need each other, we need Jesus even more. In John 15, the imagery of the vine and the branches continues to be one we cling to. Yet one of the other phrases, while comforting, can also strike at our self-reliance, the thought that easily creeps into our minds: I don’t need help. Jesus is clear—“apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). Jesus is talking about bearing fruit, like “love, joy, peace” (Galatians 5), those core features of a disciple. To bear fruit is the life Christ calls us to, and our total reliance on Him yields a fruitful life, a life lived to the Father’s glory (v. 8).
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Those unforgettable lines spoken by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz reveal a story-telling device found in an overwhelming number of our most enduring stories from the likes of Star Wars to The Lion King. It’s known as “the hero’s journey.” In brief: an ordinary person is living an ordinary life when an extraordinary adventure is presented. The character leaves home and travels to a different world where tests and trails await, as well as mentors and villains. If she or he passes the tests and proves heroic, then the final stage is returning home with stories-to-tell and wisdom-gained. The last piece is crucial.
The story of the demon-possessed man closely parallels the hero’s journey. It is interesting in that last scene, if you will, the man begged Jesus “to go with him” (Mark 5:18). Yet Jesus told him: “Go home to your own people” (v. 19). It was important in this man’s journey to return home, to the people who knew him best and to tell them his amazing story.
God calls each of us in different ways and to different scenarios. But for some of us, it can be crucial for our faith journey to go home and tell our story to those who know us best. For some of us, the call is “there’s no place like home.”
Most mornings I recite the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not worth much for the new day until I’ve grounded myself in those words. Recently I’d said only the first two words—“Our Father”—when my phone rang. It startled me as it was 5:43 a.m. Guess who? The phone display read—“Dad.” Before I had a chance to answer, the call quickly ended. I guessed my dad had called by mistake. Sure enough, he had. Random coincidence? Maybe, but I believe we live in a world awash in the mercy of God. That particular day I needed that reassurance of our Father’s presence.
Think about that for a minute. Of all the ways Jesus could have taught His disciples to begin their prayers, He chose those two words—“Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) as the starting point. Random? No, Jesus was never less than intentional with His words. We all have different relationships with our earthly fathers—some good, some far less than that. However, praying in the way we should is not addressing “my” father or “your” father, but “our” Father, the One who sees us and hears us, and who knows what we need before we even ask Him (v. 8).
What an amazing reassurance, especially on those days when we might feel forgotten, alone, abandoned, or simply just not worth much. Remember, regardless of where we are and what time of day or night it might be, our Father in heaven is always near.
Baby gender reveals in 2019 were dramatic. A look back reveals that in July, a video showed a car emitting blue smoke to indicate “It’s a Boy!” In September, a crop-duster plane in Texas dumped hundreds of gallons of pink water to announce “It’s a Girl!” There was another “reveal” though that uncovered significant things about the world these children will grow up in. At the conclusion of 2019, YouVersion revealed that the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year on its online and mobile Bible app was Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
That’s quite the revelation. People are anxious about many things these days—from the needs of our sons and daughters, to the myriad ways family and friends are divided, to natural catastrophes and wars. But in the middle of all those worries, the good news is that a huge number of people clung to a verse that says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Furthermore, those same people encouraged others as well as themselves to present every request to God “in every situation.” The mindset that doesn’t ignore but faces life’s anxieties is one of “thanksgiving.”
The verse that didn’t make “verse of the year” but follows it is—“And the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (v. 7, nkjv). That’s quite the reassurance!
My friend’s father died recently. He got sick, his condition deteriorated quickly, and in a matter of days he was gone. My friend and his dad always had a strong relationship, but there were still so many questions to be asked, answers to be sought, and conversations to be had. So many unsaid things, and now his father is gone. My friend is a trained counselor: he knows the ups and downs of grief and how to help others navigate those troubled waters. Still, he told me, “Some days I just need to hear Dad’s voice, that reassurance of his love. It always meant the world to me.”
A pivotal event at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His baptism at the hands of John. Although John tried to resist, Jesus insisted that moment was necessary so He might identify with humankind: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15). John then did as Jesus asked. And then something happened that proclaimed Jesus’ identity to John the Baptist and the crowd, and it must have also deeply touched Jesus’ heart. The Father’s voice reassured His Son: “This is my Son whom I love” (v. 17).
That same voice reassures believers in our hearts of His great love for us (1 John 3:1).
Are we there yet? / Not yet. / Are we there yet? / Not yet. That was the back-and-forth game we played on the first (and definitely not the last) sixteen-hour trip back home to Arkansas from Colorado when our children were young. Our oldest two kept the game alive and well, and if I had a dollar for every time they asked, well, I’d have a stack of dollars. It was a question my children were obsessed with, but I (the driver) was equally obsessed wondering, “Are we there yet?” And the answer was “Not yet, but soon.”
Truth be told, most adults are asking a variation on that question although we may not voice it out loud. But we’re asking it for that same reason—we’re tired, and our eyes have grown “weak with sorrow” (Psalm 6:7). We’re “worn out from [our] groaning” (v. 6) about everything from the nightly news to daily frustrations at work to never-ending health problems to relational strains, and the list goes on. We cry out: “Are we there yet? How long,
The psalmist knew well that kind of weariness, and honestly brought that key question to God. Like a caring parent, He heard David’s cries and in His great mercy accepted them (v. 9). There was no shame for asking. Likewise, you and I can boldly approach our Father in heaven with our honest cries of “How long?” and His answer might be “Not yet. But soon. I’m good. Trust Me.”
A successful businessman spent the last few decades of his life doing all he could to give away his fortune. A multi-billionaire, he donated cash to a variety of causes such as bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s health care system, and not long before he died he spent $350 million to turn New York City’s Roosevelt Island into a technology hub. The man said, “I believe strongly in giving while living. I see little reason to delay giving. . . . Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give while you’re dead.” Give while you live—what an amazing attitude to have.
In John’s account of the man born blind, while Jesus’ disciples were trying to determine “who sinned” (9:2), Jesus briefly addressed their question, then kept moving: “Neither . . . this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (vv. 3–4). Jesus’ miracles are very different from what we can give (even as we give ourselves through our work), but the ready and loving spirit behind them are the same. Let’s give, whether it is resources or our work, in a way that the works of God might be displayed.
For God so loved the world that He gave. In turn, we’re to give while we live.