During the Great Depression in the United States, famed photographer Dorothea Lange snapped a photo of Florence Owens Thompson and her children. This well-known photograph, “Migrant Mother,” is the picture of a mother’s despair in the aftermath of the failed pea harvest. Lange took it in Nipomo, California, while working for the Farm Security Administration, hoping to make them aware of the needs of the desperate seasonal farm laborers.
The book of Lamentations presents another snapshot of despair—that of Judah in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. Before the army of Nebuchadnezzar swept in to destroy the city, the people had suffered from starvation thanks to a siege (2 Kings 24:10–11). Though their turmoil was the result of years of disobedience to God, the writer of Lamentations cried out to God on behalf of his people (Lamentations 2:11–12).
While the author of Psalm 107 also describes a desperate time in Israel’s history (during Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, vv. 4–5), the focus shifts to an action step to be taken in hard times: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble” (v. 6). And what a wonderful result: “he delivered them from their distress.”
In despair? Don’t stay silent. Cry out to the Lord. He hears and waits to restore your hope. Though He doesn’t always take us out of hard situations, He promises to be with us always.
Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922) led an unsuccessful expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914. When his ship, aptly named Endurance, became trapped in heavy ice in the Weddell Sea, it became an endurance race just to survive. With no means of communicating with the rest of the world, Shackleton and his crew used lifeboats to make the journey to the nearest shore—Elephant Island. While most of the crew stayed behind on the island, Shackleton and five crewmen spent two weeks traveling 800 miles across the ocean to South Georgia to get help for those left behind. The “failed” expedition became a victorious entry in the history books when all of Shackleton’s men survived thanks to their courage and endurance.
The apostle Paul knew what it meant to endure. During a stormy sea voyage to Rome to face trial for his Christian beliefs, Paul learned from an angel of God that the ship would sink (Acts 27:23–24). But Paul kept the men aboard encouraged, thanks to God’s promise that all would survive, despite the loss of the ship.
When disaster strikes, we tend to want God to immediately make everything better. But God gives us the faith to endure and grow. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Suffering produces endurance” (5:3). Knowing that, we can encourage each other to keep trusting God in hard times.
In the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to study how light helps us see different colors. He found that when light passes through an object, the object appears to possess a specific color. While a single ice crystal looks translucent, snow is made up of many ice crystals smashed together. When light passes through all of the crystals, snow appears to be white.
The Bible mentions something else that has a certain color—sin. Through the prophet Isaiah, God confronted the sins of the people of Judah and described their sin as “like scarlet” and as “red as crimson.” But God promised they would “be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). How? Judah needed to turn away from wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness.
Thanks to Jesus, we have permanent access to God’s forgiveness. Jesus called Himself “the light of the world” and said whoever follows Him “will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When we confess our sins, God forgives us and we’re seen through the light of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. This means that God sees us as blameless as Jesus.
We don’t have to wallow in the guilt and shame of what we’ve done wrong. Instead, we can hold on to the truth of God’s forgiveness, which makes us “white as snow.”
When I was a kid, I thought the song title, “He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need” written by Dottie Rambo in 1967, was “He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Knees.” Employing the logic of a child, I wondered why God would look at knees. Was it because they were weak? I knew that weak kneed meant “afraid.” I later discovered that Dottie had written the song about God’s unconditional love in response to her brother Eddie’s belief that he was unlovable because of the wrong things he’d done. Dottie assured him that God saw his weakness but loved him anyway.
God’s unconditional love is apparent throughout the many “weak-kneed” moments of the people of Israel and Judah. God sent prophets like Isaiah with messages for His wayward people. In Isaiah 35, the prophet shares the hope of God’s restoration. The encouragement that would come as a result of embracing hope would “strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way” (v. 3). Through the encouragement they received, God’s people would in turn be able to encourage others. This is why Isaiah instructs in verse 4, “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear.’”
Feeling “weak-kneed”? Talk to your heavenly Father. He strengthens weak knees through the truth of His Word and the power of His presence. You’ll then be able to encourage others.
“Failure is impossible!” These words were spoken by Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), known for her immovable stance on women’s rights in the US. Though she faced constant criticism and later an arrest, trial, and guilty verdict for voting illegally, Anthony vowed to never give up the fight to gain women the right to vote, believing her cause was just. Though she didn’t live to see the fruit of her labor, her declaration proved true. In 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote.
Failure wasn’t an option for Nehemiah either, mainly because he had a Powerful Helper: God. After asking God to bless his cause—rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem—Nehemiah and those who had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon worked to make that happen. The wall was needed to keep the people safe from enemies. But opposition to the cause came in the form of deception and threats. Nehemiah refused to let opposition deter him. He informed those who opposed the work, “I am carrying on a great project” (Nehemiah 6:3) After that, he prayed, “Now strengthen my hands” (v. 9). Thanks to perseverance, the work was completed (v. 15).
God gave Nehemiah the strength to persevere in the face of opposition. Is there a task for which you’re tempted to give up? Ask God to provide whatever you need to keep going.
In a YouTube video, Alan Glustoff, a cheese farmer in Goshen, New York, described his process for aging cheese, a process that adds to a cheese’s flavor and texture. Before it can be sent out to a market, each block of cheese remains on a shelf in an underground cave for six to twelve months. In this humid environment the cheese is carefully tended. “We do our best to give it the right environment to thrive . . . [and] to develop to its truest potential,” Glustoff explained.
Glustoff’s passion for developing the potential of the cheese he produces reminded me of God’s passion for developing the “truest potential” of His children so they will become fruitful and mature. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul describes the people involved in this process: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (v. 11). People with these gifts help to stimulate the growth of each believer as well as to encourage acts of service (the “works” mentioned in verse 12). The goal is that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13).
Spiritual growth comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit as we submit to His maturing process. As we follow the guidance of the people He places in our lives, we become more effective as He sends us out to serve
In These Are the Generations, Mr. Bae describes God’s faithfulness and the power of the gospel to penetrate the darkness. His grandfather, parents, and his own family were all persecuted for sharing their faith in Christ. But an interesting thing happened when Mr. Bae was imprisoned for telling a friend about God: his faith grew. The same was true for his parents when they were sentenced to a concentration camp—they continued to share Christ’s love even there. Mr. Bae found the promise of John 1:5 to be true: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus warned His disciples about the trouble they’d face. They would be rejected by people who “will do such things because they have not known the Father or me” (16:3). But Jesus offered words of comfort: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33).
While many Christians haven’t experienced persecution on the level of that endured by the family of Mr. Bae, we can expect to face trouble. But we don’t have to give in to discouragement or resentment. We have a helper—the Holy Spirit Jesus promised to send. We can turn to Him for guidance and comfort (v. 7). The power of God’s presence can hold us steady in dark times.
In West with the Night, author Beryl Markham detailed her work with Camciscan, a feisty stallion she was tasked with taming. She’d met her match with Camciscan. No matter what strategy she employed, she could never fully tame the proud stallion, chalking up only one victory over his stubborn will.
How many of us feel this way in the battle to tame our tongues? While James likens the tongue to the bit in a horse’s mouth or a ship’s rudder (James 3:3–4), he also laments, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (v. 10).
So, how can we win the battle over the tongue? The apostle Paul offers tongue-taming advice. The first involves speaking only the truth (Ephesians 4:25). This is not a license to be painfully blunt, however. Paul follows up with “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (v. 29). We can also take out the trash: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (v. 31). Is this easy? Not if we attempt to do it on our own. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit who helps us as we rely on Him.
As Markham learned, consistency with Camciscan was needed in the battle of wills. Such is the case in the taming of the tongue.
After watching ten-year-old Viola using a tree branch as a microphone to mimic a preacher, Michele decided to give Viola the opportunity to “preach” during a village outreach. Viola accepted. Michele, a missionary in South Sudan, wrote, “The crowd was enraptured. . . . A little girl who had been abandoned stood in authority before them as a daughter of the King of kings, powerfully sharing the reality of God’s Kingdom. Half the crowd came forward to receive Jesus” (Michele Perry, Love Has a Face).
The crowd that day hadn’t expected to hear a child preach. This incident brings to mind the phrase “out of the mouths of babes,” which comes from Psalm 8. David wrote, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes” (v. 2
As Viola and the children in the temple showed, God can use even a child to bring Him glory. Out of their willing hearts came a fountain of praise.