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.
Our neighborhood, like many others, uses a website to help neighbors connect immediately with those surrounding them. In my neighborhood, members warn one another of mountain lion sightings and wildfire evacuation orders, as well as supply one another with child care when the need arises. It has even proven to be a resource for locating runaway pets. By leveraging the power of the internet, those living near one another are connecting again in ways that are often lost in today’s fast-paced world.
Being in relationship with those who live nearby was also important long ago, in the days of King Solomon. While family relationships are truly important and can be a source of great support, Solomon indicates that the role of a friend is vital—especially when “disaster strikes” (Proverbs 27:10). Relatives might care deeply for their family members and desire to be of help in such circumstances. But if they’re far away, there’s little they can do in the moments when calamity strikes. Neighbors, however, because they’re close by, are likely to know of the need quickly and can assist more readily.
Because technology has made it easier than ever to remain connected with loved ones across the globe, we may be tempted to overlook those living nearby. Lord, help us invest in relationships with the people You’ve placed around us!
People the world over spent an estimated $98.2 billion on chocolate in 2016. The number is staggering, yet at the same time not all that surprising. Chocolate, after all, tastes delicious and we enjoy consuming it. And the world rejoiced collectively when the sweet treat was found to have significant health benefits too. Chocolate contains flavonoids that help safeguard the body against aging and heart disease. Never has a prescription for health been so well received or heeded (in moderation, of course!).
Solomon suggested there’s another “sweet” worthy of our investment: wisdom. He recommended his son eat honey “for it is good” (Proverbs 24:13) and compared its sweetness to wisdom. The person who feeds on God’s wisdom in Scripture finds it not only sweet to the soul but beneficial for teaching and training, equipping us for “every good work” we’ll need to accomplish in life (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Wisdom is what allows us to make smart choices and understand the world around us. And it’s worth investing in and imparting to those we love—as Solomon wished to do for his son. We can feel good about feasting on God’s wisdom in the Bible. It’s a sweet treat that we can enjoy without limit—in fact, we’re encouraged to! Lord, thank You for the sweetness of Your Word.
In 2009, Los Angeles County stopped charging families for the costs of their children’s incarceration. Though no new fees were charged, those with unpaid fees from before the change in policy were still required to settle their debt. Then in 2018 the county canceled all outstanding financial obligations.
For some families, canceling the debt aided greatly in their struggle to survive; no longer having liens on their property or wages being garnished meant they were better able to put food on the table. It was for this kind of hardship that the Lord called for debts to be forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:2). He didn’t want people to be crippled forever under this burden.
Because the Israelites were forbidden to charge interest on a loan to fellow Israelites (Exodus 22:25), their motives for lending to a neighbor weren’t to make a profit, but rather to help those who were enduring hard times, perhaps due to a bad harvest. Debts were to be freely forgiven every seven years. As a result, there would be less poverty among them as a people group (Deuteronomy 15:4).
Today, believers in Jesus aren’t bound by these laws. But God might occasionally prompt us to forgive a debt so those who’ve been struggling can get back on their feet and begin afresh as contributing members of society. When we show such mercy and generosity to others, we lift up God’s character and give people hope.