The young father was at the end of his rope. “Ice cream! Ice cream!” his toddler screamed. The meltdown in the middle of the crowded mall began drawing the attention of shoppers nearby. “Fine, but we just need to do this for mommy first, okay?” “Nooooo! Ice cream!”And then she approached them: a small, well-dressed woman with shoes that matched her handbag. “He’s having a big fit,” the father said. The woman smiled and responded, “Actually, it looks like a big fit is having your little boy. Don’t forget he’s so small. He needs you to be patient and stay close.” The situation didn’t magically resolve itself, but it was just the kind of pause the father and son needed in the moment.
Echoes of the wise woman’s words are heard in Psalm 103. David writes of the Lord who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (v. 8). He then continues by invoking the image of an earthly father who “has compassion on his children,” and even more so “the
We often fail, and are overwhelmed by what this big world hands us. What an amazing assurance to know of our Father’s patient, ever-present abounding love.
The year was 1918, near the end of World War I, and photographer Eric Enstrom was putting together a portfolio of his work. He wanted to include one that communicated a sense of fullness in a time that felt quite empty to so many people. In his now much-loved photo, a bearded old man sits at a table with his head bowed and his hands clasped in prayer. On the surface before him there is only a book, spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife. Nothing more, but also nothing less.
Some might say the photograph reveals scarcity. But Enstrom’s point was quite the opposite: Here is a full life, one lived in gratitude, one you and I can experience as well regardless of our circumstances. Jesus announces the good news in John 10: “life . . . to the full.” (10). We do a grave disservice to such good news when we equate full with many things. The fullness Jesus speaks of is not measured in worldly categories like riches or real estate, but rather a heart, mind, soul, and strength brimming in gratitude that the Good Shepherd gave “His life for the sheep,” (v. 11) and cares for us and our daily needs. This is a full life, enjoying relationship with God, that’s possible for every one of us.
Wallace Stegner’s mother died at the age of fifty. When Wallace, a novelist and short story writer, was eighty, he finally wrote her a note – “Letter, Much Too Late” – in which he praised the virtues of a woman who grew up, married, and raised two sons in the harsh history of the early Western United States. She was the kind of wife and mother who was an encourager, making the best of situations, especially those that were less than desirable. One of his enduring memories is the strength his mother displayed by way of her voice. Stegner wrote: “Singing, naturally. You never lost an opportunity to sing.” As long as she lived, Stegner’s mother sang, grateful for blessings large and small.
The psalmist too took opportunities to sing. There was singing when the days were good, and when they were not so good. The songs were not forced or coerced, but a natural response to the “Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 6) and how He “gives food to the hungry” (v. 7) and “gives sight to the blind” (v.8) and “sustains the fatherless and the widow” (v. 9). This is really a lifestyle of singing, one that builds strength over time as daily trust is placed in “the God of Jacob . . . who “remains faithful forever” (vv. 5–6). The quality of our voices is not the point, but our response to the Lord’s sustaining goodness—a lifestyle of praise. As the old hymn puts it: “There’s within my heart a melody.”
It was just before Christmas, and her kids were having a difficult time with gratitude. In other words, they were pretty much “give me” instead of “thank you.” She knew how easy it was to slip into that kind of thinking—what with all the commercialism of the season. But she also knew she wanted something better for the hearts of her children. So she went through the house and placed a bright red bow on light switches, the pantry and refrigerator doors, the washing machine and dryer, and the water faucets. With each bow there was a handwritten note: “Some of the gifts God gives us are easy to overlook, so I’ve put a bow on them. He is so good to our family. Let’s not forget where the gifts come from.”
As we turn to Scripture and read Deuteronomy 6, we see that the future of the nation of Israel involved the conquest of existing places. So they would move into large flourishing cities they did not build (Deuteronomy 6:10), occupy houses filled with good things they didn’t provide, and benefit from wells and vineyards and olive groves they didn’t dig or plant (v. 11). All these blessings could be easily traced back to a single source—“the
In certain seasons of life it is easy to forget. But let’s not lose sight of God’s goodness, the source of all our blessings.
Imagine a vast throne room. Seated confidently on the throne is a great and powerful king. He is surrounded by all manner of attendants, each on their best behavior. Now imagine a box that sits at the king’s feet. From time to time the king reaches down and runs his hands through the contents. And what’s in the box? Jewels, gold, and gemstones particular to the king’s tastes. This box holds the king’s private treasures, a collection that brings him great joy. Can you see that image in your mind’s eye?
The Hebrew word for this treasure is segulah, and it means “special possession.” That word is found in such Old Testament Scriptures as Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, and Psalm 135:4, where it refers to the nation of Israel. But that same word picture shows up in the New Testament by way of the pen of Peter the apostle. He’s describing the “people of God,” those who “have received mercy” (v.10), a collection now beyond the nation of Israel. In other words, he’s talking about those who believe in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. And he writes “But you are…God’s special possession” (v. 9).
Imagine that! The great and powerful King of heaven considers you among His special treasures. He has rescued you from the grip of sin and death. He claims you as His own. The voice of our enemy is condemning and accusatory. The King’s voice says, “No, this one I love. This one is mine.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We all heard some variation of that question as children. Some of us continue to hear it as adults. The question is born in curiosity, and the specific answer is often heard as an indication of ambition. My answers morphed over the years, starting with a cowboy, then a truck driver, followed by a soldier, and I entered college set on becoming a doctor. However, I cannot recall one time that someone suggested or I consciously considered pursuing “a quiet life.”
Yet that is exactly what Paul told the believers in Thessalonica. First, he urged them to love one another and all of God’s family even more (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Then the apostle gave them a general admonishment that would cover whatever specific plow they put their hand to. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (v. 11). Now what did Paul mean by that exactly? He clarified: “You should mind your own business and work with your hands” so outsiders respect you and you’re not a burden on anyone (vv. 11–12). We don’t want to discourage children from pursuing their giftedness or passions but maybe we could encourage them that whatever they choose to do, they do with a quiet spirit.
Considering the world we live in, the words ambitious and quiet couldn’t seem further apart. But the Scriptures are always relevant, so perhaps we should consider what it might look like to begin living quieter.
As a young writer I was often unsure of myself when I was in writing workshops. I would look around and see rooms filled with giants, if you will—people with formal training or years of experience. I had neither. But what I did have was an ear formed by the language and tone and cadences of the King James Version of the Bible. It was very much my armor, so to speak, what I was used to, and allowing it to inform my writing style and voice has become a joy to me, and I hope to others.
We don’t get the impression that David the young shepherd was unsure of himself when it came to wearing Saul’s armor to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:38–39). He simply couldn’t move around in it. David had the awareness to realize one man’s armor can be another man’s prison – “I cannot go in these” (v. 39). So David trusted what he knew. God had prepared him for that moment with just what was needed (vv. 34-35). The sling and stones were what David was used to, his armor, and God used them to bring joy to the ranks of Israel that unforgettable day.
Have you ever felt unsure of yourself, thinking If I just had what someone else has, then my life would be different? Consider the gifts or experiences God has given specifically to you. Trust your God-given armor.
Her name was Saralyn, and I sorta had a crush on her back in our public school days. She had the most wonderful laugh. I’m not sure whether she knew about my crush, but I suspect she did. After graduation I lost track of her, as they say. Our lives went in different directions as lives often do.
I keep up with my graduating class in some online forums, and I was intensely sad when I heard that Saralyn died. I found myself wondering about the direction her life had taken over the years. This is happening more and more the older I grow, this experience of losing friends and family. But many of us tend to avoid talking about that.
While we still sorrow, the hope the apostle Paul heralds is that death doesn’t have the final say (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). There is something that follows, another word: resurrection. Paul grounds that hope in the reality of the resurrection of Christ (v. 12), and says “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14). If our hope as believers is limited to this world only, that’s just a pity (v. 19).
We will one day see those again who have “fallen asleep in Christ” (v. 18)—grandparents and parents, friends and neighbors, or even old schoolyard crushes.
Death doesn’t get the last word. Resurrection does.
For a man who lives by a code, so to speak, it felt like a major failure. What’d I do? Well, I fell asleep. Our kids have a curfew to meet when they’re out for the evening. They’re good kids, but my practice is to wait up until I hear their hands turn the front doorknob. I want to know they’re home safe. I don’t have to do this: I choose to. But one night I awoke to my daughter saying through a smile, “Dad, I’m safe. You should go to bed.” Despite our best intentions, sometimes fathers fall asleep at their posts. It was very humbling, and also very human.
But that never happens with God. Psalm 121 is a reassuring song about our God as guardian and protector of His children. The psalmist declares that the Lord who watches over us “will not slumber” (v. 3). And for emphasis, he repeats that truth in verse 4: he “will neither slumber nor sleep.” Can you even imagine? The Lord never falls asleep at His post. He is always keeping watch over us—the sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and mothers, and even fathers. It’s not so much that God has to do this, but rather that, out of His great love, God chooses to. That promise is definitely something to sing about.