In April 2019, a suburban neighborhood in Victorville, California, became buried in tumbleweeds. High winds pushed the rolling thistles into the development from the adjacent Mojave Desert where the plant grows. At maturity, the pesky weed can grow to up to six feet in height—a formidable size when it releases itself from its roots to “tumble” with the wind to scatter its seeds.
Tumbleweeds are what I picture when I read Jeremiah’s description of a person “whose heart turns away from the
Tumbleweeds and trees both have roots. Tumbleweeds, however, don’t stay connected to their life-source, causing them to dry out and die. Trees, on the other hand, remain connected to their roots, enabling them to flourish and thrive, anchored to that which will sustain them in times of difficulty. When we hold fast to God, drawing strength and encouragement from the wisdom found in the Bible and talking to Him in prayer, we too can experience the life-giving, life-sustaining nourishment He provides.
When Johannes Gutenberg combined the printing press with moveable type in 1450, he ushered in the era of mass communications in the West, spreading learning into new social realms. Literacy increased across the globe and new ideas produced rapid transformations in social and religious contexts. Gutenberg produced the first-ever printed version of the Bible. Prior to this, Bibles were painstakingly hand-copied, taking scribes up to a year to produce.
For centuries since, the printing press has provided people like you and me the privilege of direct access to Scripture. While we also have electronic versions available to us, many of us often hold a physical Bible in our hands because of his invention. What was once inaccessible given the sheer cost and time to have a Bible copied is readily at our fingertips today.
Having access to God’s truth is a privilege we mustn’t take for granted. The writer of Proverbs indicates we should treat His instructions to us in the Scriptures as something to be cherished, as “the apple of [our] eye” (Proverbs 7:2) and to write His words of wisdom on the tablet of our heart (v. 3). As we seek to understand the Bible and live according to its wisdom, we, like scribes, are drawing God’s truth from our “fingers” down into our hearts, to be taken with us wherever we go.
The city of Texarkana sits squarely on the state border between Texas and Arkansas. The city of 70,000 inhabitants has two mayors, two city councils, and two police and fire departments. The cross-town sporting rivalry between high schools draws an uncommonly high attendance, reflecting the deep allegiance each has to their own state’s school. More significant challenges arise as well, such as disputes over the shared water system, governed by two sets of state laws. Yet the town is known for its unity despite the line that divides it. Residents gather annually for a dinner held on State Line Avenue to share a meal in celebration of their oneness as a community.
The believers in Corinth may not have drawn a line down their main thoroughfare, but they were divided. They’d been quarreling as a result of their allegiances to those who taught them about Christ: Paul, Apollo, or Cephas (Peter). Paul called them all to oneness “in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10), reminding them it was Christ who was crucified for them, not their spiritual leaders.
We behave similarly today, don’t we? We sometimes oppose even those who share our singularly important belief—Jesus’ sacrifice for our wrongdoings—making them rivals instead of allies. Just as Christ Himself is not divided, we, as His earthly representation—His body—mustn’t allow differences over nonessentials to divide us. Instead, may we celebrate our oneness in Him.
Several inmates were collecting roadside garbage to reduce their jail time when their supervisor, James, collapsed. They rushed to his aid and realized he was having a medical emergency. One inmate borrowed James’s phone to call for help. The sheriff’s department later thanked the inmates for helping get their supervisor prompt medical attention, especially because they could have instead neglected him—to his great detriment as he was having a stroke—or used the situation to their own advantage to escape.
The kindness of the inmates’ actions is not unlike those of Paul and Silas when they were imprisoned. After they’d been stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison, an earthquake struck so violently that it loosed their chains and shook the prison doors off their hinges (Acts 16:23–26). When the jailer awoke, he naturally assumed the prisoners had fled and so he prepared to take his own life (to preempt what would’ve been his punishment for their escape). When Paul shouted, “We are all here!” the jailer was so moved by their actions—uncharacteristic of prisoners—that he became curious about the God they worshiped, ultimately coming to believe in Him too (vv. 27–34).
The way we treat others reveals what we believe and value. When we don’t take advantage of opportunities or situations that might hurt others, our actions might just prompt them to wonder about the God we know and love.
Kelsey navigated the narrow airplane aisle with her eleven-month-old daughter, Lucy, and Lucy’s oxygen machine. They were traveling to seek treatment for her baby’s chronic lung disease. Shortly after settling into their shared seat, a flight attendant approached Kelsey, saying a passenger in first class wanted to switch seats with her. With tears of gratitude streaming down her face, Kelsey made her way back up the aisle to the more spacious seat, while the benevolent stranger made his way toward hers.
Kelsey’s benefactor embodied the kind of generosity Paul encourages in his letter to Timothy. Paul told Timothy to instruct those in his care with the command to “do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). It’s tempting, Paul says, to become arrogant and put our hope in the riches of this world. Instead, he suggests that we focus on living a life of generosity and service to others, becoming “rich” in good deeds, like the man from seat 2D on Kelsey’s flight.
Whether we find ourselves with plenty or in want, we all can experience the richness of living generously by being willing to share what we have with others. When we do, Paul says we will “take hold of the life that is truly life” (v. 19).
Our group of friends reunited for a long weekend together on the shores of a lake in Washington state. The days were spent playing in the water and sharing meals, but it was the evening conversations I treasured the most. As darkness fell, our hearts opened to one another with uncommon depth and vulnerability, sharing the pains of faltering marriages and the aftermath of trauma some of our children were enduring. Without glossing over the brokenness of our realities, we pointed one another to God and His faithfulness throughout such extreme difficulties. Those evenings are among the most sacred in my life.
I imagine those nights are similar to what God intended when He instructed His people to gather each year for the Festival of Tabernacles. This feast, like many others, required the Israelites to travel to Jerusalem. Once they arrived, God instructed His people to gather together in worship and to “do no regular work” for the duration of the feast—about a week! (Leviticus 23:35) The Festival of Tabernacles celebrated God’s provision and commemorated their time in the wilderness after leaving Egypt (vv. 42–43).
This gathering cemented the Israelites’ sense of identity as God’s people and proclaimed His goodness despite their collective and individual hardships. When we gather with those we love to recall God’s provision and presence in our lives we too are strengthened in faith.
Loneliness is one of the greatest threats to our sense of well-being, affecting our health through our behaviors on social media, food consumption, and the like. One study suggests that nearly two-thirds of all people—regardless of age or gender—feel lonely at least some of the time. One British supermarket has created “talking tables” in their store cafés as a way to foster connection between people. Those looking for human interaction simply seat themselves at a table designated for that purpose, joining others or indicating a desire to be joined. Conversation ensues, providing a sense of connection and community.
The people of the early church were committed to shared connection too. Without each other, they would likely have felt very alone in the practice of their faith, which was still new to the world. Not only did they “[devote] themselves to the apostles’ teaching” to learn what following Jesus meant, they also “[met] together in the temple courts” and “broke bread in their homes” for mutual encouragement and fellowship (vv. 42, 46).
We need human connection; God designed us that way! Painful seasons of loneliness point to that need. Like the people of the early church, it’s important for us to engage in the human companionship our well-being requires and to offer it to those around us who also need it.
A recent study has shown that encouraging words from a health-care provider can help patients recuperate faster from their ailments. A simple experiment exposed volunteer study participants to a skin allergen to make them itch and then compared the reactions between those who received assurance from their physician and those who didn’t. Patients who received encouragement from their doctors had less discomfort and itching than their counterparts.
The writer of Proverbs knew how important encouraging words are. “Gracious words” bring “healing to the bones,” he wrote (Proverbs 16: 24). The positive effect of words isn’t limited to our health: when we heed the wisdom of instruction, we’re also more likely to prosper in our efforts (v. 20). So too encouragement buoys us for the challenges we face now and may encounter in the future.
We may not yet fully understand why or even how much wisdom and encouragement bring strength and healing to our daily lives. Yet the cheers and guidance of our parents, coaches, and colleagues seem to help us endure difficulty and steer us toward success. Similarly, the Bible brings us encouragement when we face trials, equipping us to bear up under even the most unthinkable circumstances. Help us, Lord, to be strengthened by Your wisdom and to, in turn, offer the healing and hope of “gracious words” to those You’ve placed in our lives.
For twelve years, Chirpy, a seagull, has made daily visits to a man who had helped him heal from a broken leg. John wooed Chirpy to himself with dog biscuits and was then able to nurse him back to health. Though Chirpy only resides in Instow Beach in Devon, England, between September and March, he and John Sumner find each other easily—Chirpy flies straight to him when he arrives at the beach each day, though he doesn’t approach any other human. It’s an uncommon relationship, to be sure.
John and Chirpy’s bond reminds me of another uncommon relationship between man and bird. When Elijah, one of God’s prophets, was sent into the wilderness to “hide in the Kerith Ravine” during a time of drought, God said he was to drink from the brook, and He’d send ravens to supply him with food (1 Kings 17:4). Despite the difficult circumstances and surroundings, Elijah would have his needs for food and water met. Ravens were unlikely caterers—naturally feeding on unseemly meals themselves—yet they brought Elijah wholesome food.
It may not surprise us that a man would help a bird, but when birds provide for a man with “bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening,” it can only be explained by God’s power and care (v. 6). Like Elijah, we too can trust in His provision for us.