Darkness descended on our forest village when the moon disappeared. Lightning slashed the skies, followed by a rainstorm and crackling thunder. Awake and afraid, as a child I imagined all kinds of grisly monsters about to pounce on me! By daybreak, however, the sounds vanished, the sun rose, and calm returned as birds jubilated in the sunshine. The contrast between the frightening darkness of the night and the joy of the daylight was remarkably sharp.
The author of Hebrews recalls the time when the Israelites had an experience at Mount Sinai so dark and stormy they hid in fear (Exodus 20:18–19). For them, God’s glory, even in His loving gift of the law, felt dark and terrifying. This was because, as sinful people, the Israelites couldn’t live up to God’s standards. Their sin caused them to walk in darkness and fear (Hebrews 12:18–21).
But God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In Hebrews 12, Mount Sinai represents God’s holiness and our old life of disobedience, while the beauty of Mount Zion represents God’s grace and believers’ new life in Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24).
Whoever follows Jesus will “never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Through Him, we can let go of the darkness of our old life and celebrate the joy of walking in the light and the beauty of His kingdom.
When I emerged from my hotel in Kampala, Uganda, my hostess, who had come to pick me up for our seminar, looked at me with an amused grin. “What’s so funny?” I inquired. She laughed and asked, “Did you comb your hair?” It was my turn to laugh, for I had indeed forgotten to comb my hair. I had looked at my reflection in the hotel mirror. How come I took no notice of what I saw?
In a practical analogy, James gives us a useful dimension to make our study of God’s Word more beneficial. We look in the mirror to examine ourselves to see if anything needs correction—hair combed, face washed, shirt properly buttoned. Like a mirror, God’s Word helps us to examine our character, attitude, thoughts, and behavior (James 1:23–24). This enables us to align our lives according to the principles of God’s Word. We will “keep a tight rein” on our tongues (v. 26) and “look after orphans and widows” (v. 27). We will pay heed to God’s Holy Spirit within us and keep ourselves “from being polluted by the world” (v. 27).
When we look attentively into “the perfect law that gives freedom” and apply it to our lives, we will be blessed in what we do (v. 25). As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we can “humbly accept the word planted in you” (v. 21).
The loneliest Christmas I ever spent was in my grandfathers’ cottage near Sakogu, northern Ghana. I was just 15, and my parents and siblings were a thousand kilometers away. In previous years, when I had been with them and my village friends, Christmas was always big and memorable. But this Christmas was quiet and lonely. As I lay on my floor mat early Christmas morning, I remembered a local song: The year has ended; Christmas has come; the Son of God is born; peace and joy to everybody. Mournfully, I sang it over and over.
My grandmother came and asked, “What song is that?” My grandparents didn’t know about Christmas—or about Christ. So I shared what I knew about Christmas with them. Those moments brightened my loneliness.
Alone in the fields with only sheep and occasional predators, the shepherd boy David experienced loneliness. It would not be the only time. Later in his life he wrote, “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). But David did not allow loneliness to cause him to be despondent. Instead, he sang: “My hope,
From time to time we all face loneliness. Wherever Christmas may find you this year, in loneliness or in companionship, you can enjoy the season with Christ.
The anxious father and his teenage son sat before the psychic. “How far is your son traveling?” the psychic asked. “To the big city,” the man replied, “and he will be gone for a long time.” Handing the father a talisman (a kind of good-luck charm), he said, “This will protect him wherever he goes.”
I was that boy. However, that psychic and that talisman could do nothing for me. While in that city, I put my faith in Jesus. I threw away the talisman and clung to Christ. Having Jesus in my life guaranteed God’s presence.
Thirty years later, my father, now a believer, said to me as we rushed my brother to the hospital, “Let us first pray; the Spirit of God goes with you and will be with you all the way!” We had learned that God’s presence and power is our only security.
Moses learned a similar lesson. He had a challenging task from God—to lead the people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land (Exodus 3:10). But God assured him, “I will be with you” (v. 12).
Our journey too is not without challenges, but we are assured of God’s presence. As Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
At a dedication ceremony during which a Bible translated into a local African language was presented, the area chief was presented with his own copy. In appreciation, he lifted the Bible to the skies and exclaimed, “Now we know God understands our language! We can read the Bible in our own native mother-tongue.”
No matter our language, our heavenly Father understands it. But often we feel unable to express our deepest longings to Him. The apostle Paul encourages us to pray regardless. Paul speaks of our suffering world and our own pain: “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” and he compares that to the Holy Spirit’s work on our behalf. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” he writes. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).
God’s Holy Spirit knows us intimately. He knows our longings, our heart-language, and our unspoken words, and He helps us in our communication with God. His Spirit draws us to be transformed into the image of God the Son (v. 29).
Our heavenly Father understands our language and speaks to us through His Word. When we think our prayers are weak or too short, His Holy Spirit helps us by speaking through us to the Father. He yearns for us to talk with Him in prayer.
In our neighborhood, high concrete walls surround our homes. Many of these walls are enhanced with electric barbed wires lining the top. The purpose? To ward off robbers.
Frequent power outages are also a problem in our neighborhood. These outages render the front gate-bell useless. Because of the wall, a visitor may be kept out in the scorching sun or torrential rain during these outages. Yet even when the gate-bell works, to admit the visitor might depend on who they are. Our fence-walls serve a good purpose, but they can become walls of discrimination—even when the visitor is obviously not an intruder.
The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well had a similar difficulty with discrimination. The Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. When Jesus asked her for a drink, she said, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). As she began to open up to Jesus, she had a life-changing experience that positively affected her and her townsfolk (vv. 39–42). Jesus became the bridge that broke the wall of hostility and favoritism.
The lure to discriminate is real, and we need to look for it in our own lives. As Jesus showed us, we can reach out to all people regardless of nationality, tribe, social status, or reputation. He came to build bridges, not walls.
Did God know about me as I drove at night on a 100-mile journey to my village? Given the condition I was in, the answer was not simple. My temperature ran high and my head ached. I prayed, “Lord, I know you are with me, but I’m in pain!”
Tired and weak, I parked by the road near a small village. Ten minutes later, I heard a voice. “Hello! Do you need any help?” It was a man with his companions from the community. Their presence felt good. When they told me the name of their village: Naa mi n’yala (meaning, “The King knows about me!”), I was amazed. I had passed this community dozens of times without stopping. This time, the Lord used its name to remind me that, indeed, He, the King, was with me while I was alone on that road in my ailing condition. Encouraged, I pressed on toward the nearest clinic.
God knows us thoroughly as we go about our everyday chores, at different locations and situations, no matter our conditions (Ps. 139:1-4, 7-9). He does not abandon us or forget us; neither is He too busy that He neglects us. Even when we are in trouble or in difficult circumstances—“darkness” and “night” (vv. 11–12)—we are not hidden from His presence. This truth so gives us hope and assurance that we can praise the Lord who has carefully created us and leads us through life (v. 14).
When I was a boy in the village, something about chickens fascinated me. Whenever I caught one, I held it down for a few moments and then gently released it. Thinking I was still holding it, the chicken remained down; even though it was free to dash away, it felt trapped.
When we put our faith in Jesus, He graciously delivers us from sin and the hold that Satan had on us. However, because it may take time to change our sinful habits and behavior, Satan can make us feel trapped. But God’s Spirit has set us free; He doesn’t enslave us. Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
Through our Bible reading, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit God works in us to cleanse us and to help us live for Him. The Bible encourages us to be confident in our walk with Jesus without feeling as if we are not set free.
Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). May the freedom we have in Christ spur us on to love Him and serve Him.
Someone in our Bible-study group suggested, “Let’s write our own psalms!” Initially, some protested that they didn’t have the flair for writing, but after some encouragement everyone wrote a moving poetic song narrating how God had been working in their lives. Out of trials, protection, provision, and even pain and tears came enduring messages that gave our psalms fascinating themes. Like Psalm 136, each psalm revealed the truth that God’s love endures forever.
We all have a story to tell about God’s love—whether we write or sing or tell it. For some, our experiences may be dramatic or intense—like the writer of Psalm 136 who recounted how God delivered His people from captivity and conquered His enemies (vv. 10–15). Others may simply describe God’s marvelous creation—“who by his understanding made the heavens . . . spread out the earth upon the waters . . . who made the great lights . . . the sun to govern the day . . . the moon and stars to govern the night” (vv. 5–9).
Remembering who God is and what He has done brings out praise and thanksgiving that glorifies Him. We can then “[speak] to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19) about the goodness of the Lord whose love endures forever! Turn your experience of God’s love into a praise song of your own and enjoy an overflow of His never-ending goodness.