“Do you want to see what’s inside?” my friend asked. I had just complimented her on the old-fashioned rag doll her daughter held in her small arms. Instantly curious, I replied that yes, I very much wanted to see what lay inside. She turned the doll face down and pulled open a discreet zipper sewn into its back. From within the cloth body, Emily gently removed a treasure: the rag doll she’d held and loved throughout the years of her own childhood more than two decades prior. The “outer” doll was merely a shell without this inner core to give it strength and form.
Paul describes the truth of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection as a treasure, carried about in the frail humanity of God’s people. That treasure enables those who trust in Him to bear up under unthinkable adversity and continue in their service. When they do, His light—His life—shines brightly through the “cracks” of their humanness. Paul encourages us all to not “lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16) because God strengthens us to do His work.
Like the “inner” doll, the gospel-treasure within us lends both purpose and fortitude to our lives. When God’s strength shines through us, it invites others to ask, “What’s inside?” We can then unzip our hearts and reveal the life-giving promise of salvation in Christ.
After Christmas festivities conclude at the end of December, my thoughts often turn to the coming year. While my children are out of school and our daily rhythms are slow, I reflect on where the last year has brought me and where I hope the next will take me. Those reflections sometimes come with pain and regret over the mistakes I’ve made. Yet the prospect of starting a new year fills me with hope and expectancy. I feel I have the opportunity to begin again with a fresh start, no matter what the last year held.
My anticipation of a fresh start pales in comparison to the sense of hope the Israelites must have felt when Cyrus, the king of Persia, released them to return to their homeland in Judah after seventy long years of captivity in Babylon. The previous king, Nebuchadnezzar, had deported the Israelites from their homeland. But the Lord prompted Cyrus to send the captives home to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1:2, 3). Cyrus returned to them treasures that had been taken from the temple as well. Their lives as God’s chosen people, in the land God had appointed to them, began afresh after a long season of hardship in Babylon as a consequence for their sin.
No matter what lies in our past, when we confess our sin, God forgives us and gives us a fresh start. What great cause for hope!
In the fable of the chicken and the pig, the two animals discuss opening a restaurant together. As they plan their menu, the chicken suggests they serve ham and eggs. The pig swiftly objects saying, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you would only be involved.”
Although the pig didn’t care to put himself on the platter, his understanding of commitment is instructive to me as I learn to better follow God with my whole heart.
To protect his kingdom, Asa, king of Judah, sought to break up a treaty between the kings of Israel and Aram. To accomplish this, he sent personal treasure along with “silver and gold out of the treasuries of the
But God’s prophet, Hanani, called Asa foolish for relying on human help instead of God who had delivered other enemies into their hands. Hanani asserted, “The eyes of the
As we face our own battles and challenges, let’s remember that God is our best ally. He strengthens us when we we’re willing to “serve up” a whole-hearted commitment to Him.
When we brought our adoptive son home from overseas, I was eager to shower him with love and provide what he had lacked over the preceding months, especially quality food, since he had a nutritional deficit. But despite our best efforts, including consulting specialists, he grew very little. After nearly three years, we learned he had some severe food intolerances. After removing those items from his diet, he grew five inches in just a few months. While I grieved at how long I’d unwittingly fed him foods that impaired his growth, I rejoiced at this surge in his health!
I suspect Josiah felt similarly when the Book of the Law was discovered after having been lost in the temple for years. Just as I grieved having unintentionally hindered my son’s growth, Josiah grieved having ignorantly missed God’s fullest and best intentions for His people (2 Kings 22:11). Although he is commended for doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord (v. 2), he learned better how to honor God after finding the Law. With his newfound knowledge, he led the people to worship again as God had instructed them (23:22–23).
As we learn through the Bible how to honor Him, we may grieve the ways we’ve fallen short of God’s will for us. Yet we can be comforted that He heals and restores us, and leads us gently into deeper understanding.
My husband recently celebrated a milestone birthday, the kind that ends in a zero. I thought hard about the best way to honor him on this important occasion. I discussed my many ideas with our children to help me home in on the best one. I wanted our celebration to reflect the significance of a new decade and how precious he is to our family. I wanted our gift be in keeping with the importance of this milestone in his life.
King Solomon wanted to give to God a much greater gift than a “big birthday” would merit. He wished for the temple he built to be worthy of God’s presence in it. To secure raw materials, he messaged the king of Tyre. In his letter, he remarked that the temple would be great “because our God is greater than all other gods” (2 Chron. 2:5). He acknowledged that God’s vastness and goodness far exceeded what could ever be built with human hands, yet set about the task anyway out of love and worship.
Our God is indeed greater than all other gods. He has done wondrous things in our lives, prompting our hearts to bring Him a loving and precious offering, regardless of its external value. Solomon knew his gift wouldn’t match God’s worth, yet joyfully set his offering before Him; we can too.
My birthday is the day after my mother’s. As an adolescent, I would scramble to think of a gift that delighted my mom yet fit in my budget. She always received my purchases with appreciation, and on the following day, my birthday, she would present her gift to me. Without fail, her gift vastly outshone mine. Her intention wasn’t to diminish what I’d given her; she simply gave generously from her resources, which far exceeded my own.
My desire to give to my mother reminds me of David’s wish to build a home for God. Struck by the contrast between his palace and the tent where God revealed Himself, David longed to build God a temple. Instead of granting David’s wish to give, God responded by giving David an exceedingly better gift. God promised that not only would one of David’s children (Solomon) build the temple (1 Chron. 17:11), but that He would build David a house, a dynasty. That promise began with Solomon but found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, whose throne was indeed “established forever” (v. 12). David wanted to give from his finite resources, but God promised something infinite.
Like David, may we always be moved to give to God out of gratitude and love. And may we always see how much more abundantly He has given to us in Jesus.
When my husband and I were first asked to host a small group in our home, my immediate reaction was to decline. I felt inadequate. We didn’t have seats for everyone; our home was small and couldn’t hold many people. I didn’t know whether we had the skills to facilitate the discussion. I worried that I’d be asked to prepare food, something for which I lacked both passion and funds. I didn’t feel like we had “enough” to do it. I didn’t feel I was “enough” to do it. But we wanted to give to God and our community, so despite our fears, we agreed. Over the next five years found great joy in welcoming the group into our living room.
I observe similar reluctance and doubt in the man who brought bread to God’s servant, Elisha. Elisha had instructed him to give it to the people, but the man questioned whether twenty loaves could feed so many—one hundred men. He seems to have been tempted to withhold the food because—in his human understanding—it wouldn’t be sufficient. Yet it was more than enough (2 Kings 4:44), because God took his gift, given in obedience, and made it enough.
When we feel inadequate, or think that what we have to offer isn’t sufficient, let’s remember that God asks us to give what we have in faithful obedience. He is the one who makes it “enough.”
A popular children’s book tells the story of a poor, country boy who took off his cap to honor the king. An identical hat appeared instantly in its place on his head, inciting the king’s anger for what appeared to be disrespect. Bartholomew removed hat after hat while being escorted to the palace for punishment. Each time, a new one appeared in its place. The hats grew increasingly fancy, bearing precious jewels and feather plumes. The 500th hat was the envy of King Derwin, who pardoned Bartholomew and purchased the hat for 500 pieces of gold. At last, Bartholomew’s head was bare; he walked home with freedom and money to support his family.
A widow came to Elisha in financial distress, fearing her children would be sold into slavery to pay her debts (2 Kings 4). She had no assets other than a jar of oil. God multiplied that oil to fill enough borrowed jars to settle the debts plus care for their daily needs (v. 7). God provided financially for the widow in much the same way He provides salvation for me. I am bankrupted by sin, but Jesus paid my debt—and offers me eternal life as well!
Without Jesus, we are each like the poor, country boy with no means to pay our King for our offenses against Him. God miraculously supplies the extravagant ransom on our behalves, and ensures those who trust in Him will have life abundant forever.
As a teenager, when I became overwhelmed by enormous challenges or high-stakes decisions, my mother taught me the merits of putting pen to paper to gain perspective. When I was uncertain whether to take specific classes or which job to pursue, or how to cope with the frightening realities of adulthood, I learned her habit of writing out the basic facts and the possible courses of action with their likely outcomes. After pouring my heart onto the page, I was able to step back from the problem and view it more objectively than my emotions allowed.
Just as recording my thoughts on paper offered me fresh perspective, pouring our hearts out to God in prayer helps us gain His perspective and remind us of His power. King Hezekiah did just that after receiving a daunting letter from an ominous adversary. The Assyrians threatened to destroy Jerusalem as they had many other nations. Hezekiah spread out the letter before the Lord, prayerfully calling on Him to deliver the people so that the world would recognize He “alone . . . [is] God” (2 Kings 19:19).
When we’re faced with a situation that brings anxiety, fear, or a deep awareness that getting through it will require more than what we have, let’s follow in Hezekiah’s footsteps and run straight to the Lord. Like him, we, too, can lay our problem before God and trust Him to guide our steps and calm our uneasy hearts.