The teenage years are sometimes among the most agonizing seasons in life—for both parent and child. In my adolescent quest to “individuate” from my mother, I openly rejected her values and rebelled against her rules, suspicious their purposes were merely to make me miserable. Though we’ve since come to agree on those matters, that time in our relationship was riddled with tension. Mom undoubtedly lamented my refusal to heed the wisdom of her instructions, knowing they would spare me unnecessary emotional and physical pain.
God had the same heart for His children, Israel. God imparted His wisdom for living in what we know as the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7–21). Though they could be viewed as a list of rules, God’s intention is evident in His words to Moses: “so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (v. 29). Moses recognized God’s desire, saying that obedience to the decrees would result in their enjoyment of His ongoing presence with them in the Promised Land (v. 33).
We all go through a season of “adolescence” with God, not trusting that His guidelines for living are truly meant for our good. May we grow into the realization that He wants what’s best for us and learn to heed the wisdom He offers. His guidance is meant to lead us into spiritual maturity as we become more like Christ (Psalm 119:97–104; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:18).
When Colin opened the box of stained-glass pieces he’d purchased, instead of finding the fragments he’d ordered for a project, he discovered intact, whole windows. He sleuthed out the windows’ origins and learned they'd been removed from a church to protect them from World War II bombings. Colin marveled at the quality of work and how the “fragments” formed a beautiful picture.
If I’m honest, there are times when I open particular passages of the Bible—such as chapters containing lists of genealogies—and I don’t immediately see how they fit within the bigger picture of Scripture. Such is the case with Genesis 11—a chapter that contains a repetitive cadence of unfamiliar names and their families, such as Shem, Shelah, Eber, Nahor, and Terah (vv. 10–32). I’m often tempted to gloss over these sections and skip to a part that contains something that feels familiar and fits more easily into my “window” of understanding of the Bible’s narrative.
Since “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16), the Holy Spirit can help us better understand how a fragment fits into the whole, opening our eyes to see, for example, how Shelah is related to Abram (Genesis 11:26), the ancestor of David and—more importantly—Jesus (Matthew 1:2, 6, 17). He delights in surprising us with the treasure of a perfectly intact window where even the smaller parts reveal the story of God’s mission throughout the Bible.
Our son spent the early years of his life in a children’s home prior to our adopting him. Before leaving the cinderblock building together to go home, we asked to collect his belongings. Sadly, he had none. We exchanged the clothes he was wearing for the new items we’d brought for him and also left some clothing for the other children. Even though I was grieved by how little he had, I rejoiced that we could now help meet his physical and emotional needs.
A few years later, we saw a person asking for donations for families in need. My son was eager to donate his stuffed animals and a few coins to help them. Given his background, he might have (understandably) been more inclined to hold tightly to his belongings.
I’d like to think the reason for his generous response was the same as that of the early church: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all” that nobody in their midst had need (Acts 4:33–34). The people willingly sold their own possessions to provide for one another’s needs.
When we become aware of the needs of others, whether material or intangible, may God’s grace be so powerfully at work in us that we respond as they did, willingly giving from our hearts to those in need. This makes us vessels of God’s grace as fellow believers in Jesus, “one in heart and mind” (v. 32).
Alan came to me for advice on how to deal with his fear of public speaking. Like so many others, his heart would begin to race, his mouth would feel sticky and dry, and his face would flush bright red. Glossophobia is among the most common social fears people have—many even joke that they’re more fearful of public speaking than of dying! To help Alan conquer his fear of not “performing” well, I suggested he focus on the substance of his message instead of how well he’d deliver it.
Shifting the focus to what will be shared, instead of one’s ability to share it, is similar to Paul’s approach to pointing others to God. When he wrote to the church at Corinth, he remarked that his message and preaching “were not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Instead, he’d determined to focus solely on the truth of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion (v. 2), trusting the Holy Spirit to empower his words, not his eloquence as a speaker.
When we’ve come to know God personally, we’ll want to share about Him with those around us. Yet we sometimes shy away from it because we’re afraid of not presenting it well—with the “right” or eloquent words. By focusing instead on the “what”—the truth of who God is and His amazing works—we can, like Paul, trust Him to empower our words and share without fear or reluctance.
A recent survey asked respondents to identify the age at which they believed they became adults. Those who considered themselves adults pointed to specific behaviors as evidence of their status. Having a budget and buying a house topped the list as being marks of “adulting.” Other adult activities ranged from cooking dinner every weeknight and scheduling one’s own medical appointments, to the more humorous ability to choose to eat snacks for dinner or being excited to stay at home on a Saturday evening instead of going out.
The Bible says we should press on toward spiritual maturity as well. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, urging the people to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). While we’re “young” in our faith, we’re vulnerable to “every wind of teaching” (v. 14), which often results in division among us. Instead, as we mature in our understanding of the truth, we function as a unified body under “him who is the head, that is, Christ” (v. 15).
God gave us His Spirit to help us grow into a full understanding of who He is (John 14:26), and He equips pastors and teachers to instruct and lead us toward maturity in our faith (Ephesians 4:11). Just as certain characteristics are evidence of physical maturity, our unity as His body is one evidence of our spiritual growth.
On a hike in the mountains, Adrian found himself above some low-lying clouds. With the sun behind him, Adrian looked down and saw not only his shadow but also a brilliant display known as a Brocken spectre. This phenomenon resembles a rainbow halo, encircling the shadow of the person. It occurs when the sunlight reflects back off the clouds below. Adrian described it as a “magical” moment, one that delighted him immensely.
We can imagine how similarly stunning seeing the first rainbow must have been for Noah. More than just a delight to his eyes, the refracted light and resulting colors came with a promise from God. After a devastating flood, God assured Noah, and all the “living creatures” who’ve lived since, that “never again [would] the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Genesis 9:15).
Our earth still experiences floods and other frightening weather that results in tragic loss, but the rainbow is a promise that God will never judge the earth again with a worldwide flood. This promise of His faithfulness can remind us that though we individually will experience personal losses and physical death on this earth—whether by disease, natural disaster, wrongdoing, or advancing age—God bolsters us with His love and presence throughout the difficulties we face. Sunlight reflecting colors through water is a reminder of His faithfulness to fill the earth with those who bear His image and reflect His glory to others.
A young father held his baby boy in his arms, singing to him and rocking him in soothing rhythm. Music played in the background while the father sang out the lyrics to his son. The baby was hearing-impaired, unable to hear the melody or the words. Yet the father sang anyway, in a beautiful, tender act of love toward his son. And his efforts were rewarded with a delightful smile from the baby boy.
The imagery of the father-son exchange bears a striking resemblance to the words of Zephaniah. The Old Testament prophet says that God will joyfully sing over His daughter, the people of Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:17). God enjoys doing good things for His beloved people: taking away their punishment and turning back their enemies (v. 15). Zephaniah says they no longer have any reason for fear and instead have cause for rejoicing.
We, as God’s children redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, sometimes are hard of hearing—unable, or perhaps unwilling, to tune our ears to the exuberant love God sings over us. His adoration of us is like that of the young father, who lovingly sang to his son despite his inability to hear. He has taken away our punishment too, giving us further reason to rejoice. Perhaps we might try to listen more closely to hear the joy ringing loudly in His voice. Lord, help us to hear Your loving melody and savor being held safely in Your arms.
Karen, a middle school teacher, created an activity to teach her students how to better understand one another. In “The Baggage Activity” students wrote down some of the emotional weights they were carrying. The notes were shared anonymously, giving the students insight into each other’s hardships, often with tearful response from their peers. The classroom has since been filled with a deeper sense of mutual respect amongst the teens, who now have a greater sense of empathy for one another.
Throughout the Bible, God has nudged His people to treat one another with dignity and show empathy in their interaction with others (Romans 12:15). As early in the history of Israel as the book of Leviticus, God pointed the Israelites toward empathy—especially in their dealings with foreigners. He said to “love them as [themselves]” because they too had been foreigners in Egypt and knew that hardship intimately (Leviticus 19:34).
Sometimes the burdens we carry make us feel like foreigners—alone and misunderstood—even among our peers. We don’t always have a similar experience to draw on as the Israelites did with the foreigners among them. Yet we can always treat those God puts in our paths with the respect and understanding that we, ourselves, desire. Whether a modern-day middle schooler, an Israelite, or anything in between, we honor God when we do.
If you want to live longer, take a vacation! Forty years after a study of middle-aged, male executives who each had a risk of heart disease, researchers in Helsinki, Finland, followed up with their study participants. The scientists discovered something they hadn’t been looking for in their original findings: the death rate was lower among those who had taken time off for vacation.
Work is a necessary part of life—a part God appointed to us even before our relationship with Him was fractured in Genesis 3. Solomon wrote of the seeming meaninglessness of work experienced by those not working for God’s honor—recognizing its “anxious striving” and “grief and pain” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23). Even when they’re not actively working, he says their “minds do not rest” because they’re thinking about what still needs to be done (v. 23).
We too might at times feel like we’re “chasing after the wind” (v. 17) and grow frustrated by our inability to “finish” our work. But when we remember that God is part of our labor—our purpose—we can both work hard and take time to rest. We can trust Him to be our Provider, for He’s the giver of all things. Solomon acknowledges that “without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (v. 25). Perhaps by reminding ourselves of that truth we can work diligently for Him (Colossians 3:23) and also allow ourselves times of rest.