When five-year-old Bella was hospitalized for cancer in North Dakota, she received music therapy as part of her treatment. Many people have experienced the powerful effect of music on mood without understanding exactly why, but researchers have recently documented a clinical benefit. Music is now being prescribed for cancer patients like Bella, and those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and trauma to reduce anxiety, muscle tension, and sleep problems, or to release sadness.
King Saul reached for a musical prescription when he was feeling tormented. His attendants saw his lack of peace and suggested they find someone to play the lyre for him in hopes it would make him “feel better” (1 Samuel 16:16). They sent for Jesse’s son David, and Saul was pleased with him and asked that he “remain in [his] service” (v. 22). David played for Saul in his moments of unrest, bringing him relief from his anguish.
We may only just be discovering scientifically what God has known all along about how music can affect us. As the author and creator of both our bodies and music itself, He provided a prescription for our health that’s readily accessible to all, regardless of the era in which we live or how easy it is to visit a doctor. Even when there’s no way to listen, we can sing to God in the midst of our joys and struggles, making music of our own (Acts 16:25; Psalm 59:16).
Protect Your Heart
Hungarian-born mathematician Abraham Wald lent his skills to the World War II efforts after coming to the United States in 1938. The military was looking for ways to protect its aircraft from enemy fire, so Wald and his colleagues at the Statistical Research Group were asked to figure out how to better protect military aircraft to defend against enemy fire. They began by examining returning aircraft to see where they were most damaged. But Wald is credited with the keen insight that damage on returning aircraft represented only where a plane could be hit and still survive. He realized that areas most in need of additional armor would be found on planes that had crashed. Planes hit in the most vulnerable part—the engine—had gone down and therefore couldn’t be examined.
Solomon teaches us about protecting our most vulnerable part—our heart. He instructs his son to “guard [his] heart” because from it everything else flows. (Proverbs 4:23) God’s instructions guide us through life, steering us away from poor decisions and teaching us where to focus our attention.
If we armor our heart by heeding His instructions, we’ll better “keep [our feet] from evil” and remain steadfast in our journey with God (v. 27). We venture into enemy territory every day, but with God’s wisdom guarding our hearts we can stay focused on our mission to live well for God’s glory.
A Nesting Place
Sand martins—small birds related to swallows—dig their nests into riverbanks. Land development in South East England reduced their habitat, and the birds had fewer and fewer places to nest when they returned from their winter migration each year. Local conservationists sprang into action and built an enormous artificial sandbank to house them. With the help of a sand-sculpting firm, they molded sand to create a space for the birds to take up residence for years to come.
This gracious act of compassion vividly depicts the words Jesus used to console His disciples. After telling them He’d be leaving and that they wouldn’t be able to go with Him until later (John 13:36), He offered them the assurance that He’d “prepare a place for [them]” in heaven (14:2). Though they were rightly saddened that Jesus said He would leave them soon and that they could not follow Him, He encouraged them to look on this holy errand as part of His preparation to receive them—and us.
Without Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, the “many rooms” of the Father’s house wouldn’t be able to receive us (v. 2). Having gone before us in preparation, Christ assures us He’ll return and take those who trust in His sacrifice to be with Him. There we’ll take up residence with Him in a joyous eternity.
Beating as One
Stories have captivated humans since the dawn of creation—functioning as a way to pass down knowledge long before written language existed. We’ve all known the delight of hearing or reading a story and being immediately engaged by such opening lines as “once upon a time.” The power of a story appears to extend beyond merely enjoyment: when we listen to a story together, our heartbeats seem to synchronize! Though our individual heartbeats vary over the course of a day, and might only match another’s coincidentally, new research indicates our hearts may all fall into the same rhythm when we hear the same story at the same time.
God begins telling us His story with the words, “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). From the moment Adam and Eve first drew breath (v. 27), God has used that unfolding story to shape and influence not just our individual lives but also—and perhaps more importantly—our collective life as His children. Through the Bible—the most magnificent nonfiction story ever recorded—our hearts as believers in Jesus are joined together as people set apart for His purposes (1 Peter 2:9).
In response to that story, may our hearts beat in shared rhythm, delighted by the Author’s creative works. And may we share His story with others, declaring “his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3), inviting them to become part of it too.
An Orca whale, who researchers have named “Granny,” apparently knew the importance of her role in the life of her “grandbaby whale.” The young whale’s mother had recently died and the orphaned whale was not yet old enough to thrive without protection and support. Granny, though in her 80s (or older), came alongside to teach him what he needed to know to survive. Granny corralled some fish for the younger whale instead of consuming them herself, so he would not only have a meal but would also learn what to eat and where to find the salmon he’d need to live.
We too have the distinct honor and joy of passing on what we know—we can share the wonderful works and character of God to those coming after us. The aging psalmist asks God to allow him to “declare [His] power to the next generation” (Psalm 71:18). He earnestly wishes to share with others what he knows of God—His “righteous deeds” and “saving acts”—that we need to flourish (v. 15).
Even if we don’t have the gray hairs of old age (v. 18), declaring how we’ve experienced the love and faithfulness of God can benefit someone on their journey with Him. Our willingness to share that wisdom might just be what that person needs to live and thrive in Christ even in adversity (v. 20).
Both Are True
After three decades, Feng Lulu was reunited with her birth family. As a toddler, she was kidnapped while playing outside her house, but through the help of All-China Women’s Federation, she was finally located. Because she was so young when she was abducted, Feng Lulu doesn’t remember it. She grew up believing she’d been sold because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her, so learning the truth surfaced many questions and emotions.
When Joseph was unexpectedly reunited with his brothers, it’s likely he experienced some complex emotions. He’d been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt as a young man. Despite a series of painful twists and turns, God propelled Joseph to a position of authority. When his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during a famine, they—unwittingly—sought it from him.
Joseph acknowledged to his brothers that God redeemed their wrongdoing, saying He used it to “save [their] lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). Yet Joseph doesn’t mince words or redefine their hurtful actions toward him—he described them accurately as “selling [him]” (v. 5).
We sometimes try to put an overly positive spin on difficult situations, focusing on the good God brings from them without acknowledging the emotional struggle. Let’s take care not to redefine a wrong as being good simply because God redeemed it: we can look for Him to bring good from it while still recognizing the hardship and pain wrongdoing causes. Both are true.
Self-Control in God’s Strength
A 1972 study known as the “marshmallow test” was developed to gauge children’s ability to delay gratification of their desires. The kids were offered a single marshmallow to enjoy but were told if they could refrain from eating it for ten minutes, they’d be given a second one. About a third of the children were able to hold out for the larger reward (another third gobbled it up within thirty seconds!).
We might struggle to show self-control when offered something we desire, even if we know it would benefit us more in the future to wait. Yet Peter urges us to “add to [our] faith” many important virtues, including self-control (2 Peter 1:5–6). Having laid hold of faith in Jesus, Peter encourages his readers—and us—to continue to grow in goodness, knowledge, perseverance, godliness, affection, and love “in increasing measure” as evidence of that faith (v. 8).
While these virtues don’t earn us God’s favor nor secure our place in heaven, they demonstrate—to ourselves as well as to all those with whom we interact—our need to exercise self-control as God provides the wisdom and strength to do so. And, best of all, He’s “given us everything we need [to live] a godly life,” one that pleases Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 3).
Astronaut Chris Ferguson made a difficult decision as the commander of the flight crew scheduled for a journey to the International Space Station. But that decision didn’t have anything to do with the mechanics of flight or the safety of his fellow astronauts. Instead, it pertained to what he considers his most important work: his family. Ferguson opted to keep his feet planted firmly on Earth in order to be present for his daughter’s wedding.
We all face difficult decisions at times—decisions that cause us to evaluate what matters most to us in life, because one option comes at the expense of the other. Jesus aimed to communicate this truth to His disciples and a crowd of onlookers regarding life’s most important decision—to follow Him. To be a disciple, He said, would require them to “deny themselves” in order to walk with Him (Mark 8:34). They might have been tempted to spare themselves the sacrifices required of following Christ and instead seek their own desires, but He reminded them it would come at the price of that which matters much more.
We’re often tempted to pursue things that seem of great value, yet they distract us from following Jesus. Let’s ask God to guide us in the choices we face each day so we’ll choose wisely and honor Him.
When We Gather Together
Denmark is among the happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. The Danes weather their lengthy, dark winters by gathering with friends to share a warm drink or a gracious meal. The word they use for the feelings associated with those moments is hygge (hoo-gah). Hygge helps them offset the impact of enjoying less sunlight than their counterparts at lower latitudes. By circling around a simple table with loved ones, their hearts are nourished and rejuvenated.
The writer of Hebrews encourages this idea of gathering together as a community. He acknowledges that there will be difficult days—with challenges far more significant than the weather—requiring those who follow Christ to persevere in faith. Though Jesus has made certain our acceptance by God, through our faith in the Savior, we may struggle against shame or doubt or real opposition. By gathering together, we have the opportunity—the privilege—of encouraging one another through those moments in our faith. When we’re sharing company, we’re able to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which bolsters our faith (Hebrews 10:24).
Gathering with friends doesn’t assure us of a ranking on a “happiness report.” It is, however, something the Bible offers as a means to bear up in faith under the common frustrations of life. What a wonderful reason to seek out the community of a church! Or to open our homes—with an attitude of Danish simplicity—to nourish one another’s hearts.