In our suburb we complain about the constant power outages. They can hit three times in a week and last up to twenty-four hours, plunging the neighborhood into darkness. The inconvenience is hard to bear when we cannot use basic household appliances.
Our Christian neighbor often asks, “Is this also something to thank God for?” She is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We always say, “Yes, of course, we thank God in all things.” But the half-hearted manner in which we say it is contradicted by our grumbling every time the power goes off.
One day, however, our belief in thanking God in all circumstances took on new meaning. I returned from work to find our neighbor visibly shaken as she cried, “Thank Jesus the power was off. My house would have burned down, and my family and I would have perished!”
A refuse-collection truck had hit the electricity pole in front of her house and brought down the high-tension cables right over several houses. Had there been power in the cables, fatalities would have been likely.
The difficult circumstances we face can make it hard to say, “Thanks, Lord.” We can be thankful to our God who sees in every situation an opportunity for us to trust Him—whether or not we see His purpose.
A man driving his pickup truck on a country track saw a woman carrying a heavy load, so he stopped and offered her a lift. The woman expressed her gratitude and climbed into the back of the truck.
A moment later, the man noticed a strange thing: the woman was still holding onto her heavy load despite sitting in the vehicle! Astonished, he pleaded, "Please, Madam, put down your load and take your rest. My truck can carry you and your stuff. Just relax."
What do we do with the load of fear, worry, and anxiety we often carry as we go through life's many challenges? Instead of relaxing in the Lord, I sometimes behave like that woman. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28), yet I've caught myself carrying burdens I should offload onto Jesus.
We put down our burdens when we bring them to the Lord in prayer. The apostle Peter says, "Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Because He cares for us, we can rest and relax as we learn to trust Him. Instead of carrying the burdens that weigh us down and weary us, we can give them to the Lord and let Him carry them.
The theme for our adult camp was “Comfort My People.” Speaker after speaker spoke words of assurance. But the last speaker drastically changed the tone. He chose Jeremiah 7:1-11 and the topic “Wake Up from Slumber.” Without mincing words and yet with love, he challenged us to wake up and turn away from our sins.
“Don’t hide behind the grace of God and continue to live in secret sin,” he exhorted, like the prophet Jeremiah. “We boast, ‘I am a Christian; God loves me; I fear no evil,’ yet we do all kinds of evil.” We knew he cared about us, yet we shifted uncomfortably in our seats and listened to our own Jeremiah declare, “God is loving, but He is also a consuming fire! (see Heb. 12:29). He will never condone sin!”
Jeremiah of old quizzed the people, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury . . . follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’—safe to do all these detestable things?” (7:9-10).
This speaker’s brand of “Comfort My People” was another side of God’s comfort. Like a bitter herb that heals malaria, his words were spiritually curative. When we hear hard words, instead of walking away, may we respond to their healing effect.
As I sat in the auditorium, I faced the pastor with my eyes fixed on him. My posture suggested I was absorbing everything he was saying. Suddenly I heard everybody laughing and clapping. Surprised, I looked about. The preacher had apparently said something humorous, but I had no clue what it might have been. From all appearances I had been listening carefully, but in reality my mind was far away.
It’s possible to hear what is being said but not listen, to watch but not see, to be present and yet absent. In such a condition, we may miss important messages meant for us.
As Ezra read God’s instructions to the people of Judah, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). Their attention to the explanation produced understanding (v. 8), which resulted in their repentance and revival. In another situation in Samaria, Philip, after persecution of the believers broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), reached out to the Samaritan people. The crowd not only observed the miraculous signs he did, but they also “paid close attention to what he said” (v. 6). “So there was great joy in that city” (v. 8).
The mind can be like a wandering adventurer that misses a lot of excitement close by. Nothing deserves more attention than words that help us discover the joy and wonder of our Father in heaven.
My desk sits close to a window that opens into our neighborhood. From that vantage point I’m privileged to watch birds perch on the trees nearby. Some come to the windows to eat insects trapped in the screen.
The birds check their immediate surroundings for any danger, listening attentively as they look about them. Only when they are satisfied that there is no danger do they settle down to feed. Even then, they pause every few seconds to scan the area.
The vigilance these birds demonstrate reminds me that the Bible teaches us to practice vigilance as Christians. Our world is full of temptations, and we need to remain constantly alert and not forget about the dangers. Like Adam and Eve, we easily get entangled in attractions that make the things of this world seem “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3:6).
“Be on your guard,” Paul admonished, “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13). And Peter cautioned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
As we work for our own daily bread, are we alert to what could start consuming us? Are we watching for any hint of self-confidence or willfulness that could leave us wishing we had trusted our God?
When I served as an intern for a Christian magazine, I wrote a story about a person who had become a Christian. In a dramatic change, he said goodbye to his former life and embraced his new Master: Jesus. A few days after the magazine hit the street, an anonymous caller threatened, "Be careful, Darmani. We are watching you! Your life is in danger in this country if you write such stories."
That was not the only time I have been threatened for pointing people to Christ. On one occasion a man told me to vanish with the tract I was giving him or else! In both cases, I cowered. But these were only verbal threats. Many Christians have had threats carried out against them. In some cases simply living a godly lifestyle attracts mistreatment from people.
The Lord told Jeremiah, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jer. 1:7), and Jesus told His disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves" (Matt. 10:16). Yes, we may encounter threats, hardships, and even pain. But God assures us of His presence. "I am with you," He told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8), and Jesus assured His followers, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20).
Whatever struggles we face in our attempt to live for the Lord, we can trust in the Lord's presence.
I love birds, which is why I bought six caged birds and carried them home to our daughter Alice, who began to care for them daily. Then one of the birds fell ill and died. We wondered if the birds would be more likely to thrive if they were not caged. So we freed the surviving five and observed them fly away in jubilation.
Alice then pointed out, “Do you realize, Daddy, that it was the death of one bird that caused us to free the rest?”
Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus did for us? Just as one man’s sin (Adam’s) brought condemnation to the world, so one Man’s righteousness (Jesus’s) brought salvation to those who believe (Rom. 5:12–19). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
John makes it more practical when he says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). This won’t likely mean literal death, but as we align our lives with Jesus’s example of sacrificial love, we find that we are “laying down our lives.” For instance, we might choose to deprive ourselves of material goods in order to share them with others (v. 17) or make time to be with someone who needs comfort and companionship.
Who do you need to sacrifice for today?
Careless driving, rising tempers, and use of foul language among some taxi and minibus drivers are a constant source of traffic fights in our city of Accra, Ghana. But one traffic incident I witnessed took a different turn. A bus was almost hit by a careless taxi driver. I expected the bus driver to get angry and yell at the taxi driver, but he didn't. Instead, the bus driver relaxed his stern face and smiled broadly at the guilty-looking taxi driver. And the smile worked wonders. With a raised hand, the taxi driver apologized, smiled back, and moved away, the tension diffused.
A smile has a fascinating effect on our brain chemistry. Researchers have found that "when we smile it releases brain chemicals called endorphins which have an actual physiological relaxing effect.” Not only can a smile diffuse a tense situation, but it can also diffuse tension within us. Our emotions affect us as well as others. The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Eph. 4:31-32).
When anger or tension or bitterness threatens our relationship with the Lord and with others, it helps to remember that "a cheerful heart is good medicine" for our own joy and well-being.
I enjoy watching relay races. The physical strength, speed, skill, and endurance required of the athletes amaze me. But one crucial point of the race always gets my special attention and makes me anxious. It is the moment the baton is passed to the next athlete. One moment of delay, one slip, and the race could be lost.
In a sense, Christians are in a relay race, carrying the baton of faith and the knowledge of the Lord and of His Word. And the Bible tells us about our need to pass this baton from one generation to another. In Psalm 78, Asaph declares: “I will utter . . . things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us . . . . We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the
Moses said something similar to the Israelites: “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deut. 4:9).
For generations to come, we are called to lovingly and courageously do whatever we can to pass along “the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).