“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.
As I waited at the train station for my weekly commute, negative thoughts crowded my mind like commuters lining up to board a train—stress over debt, unkind remarks said to me, helplessness in the face of a recent injustice done to a family member. By the time the train arrived, I was in a terrible mood.
On the train, another thought came to mind: write a note to God, giving Him my lament. Soon after I finished pouring out my complaints in my journal, I pulled out my phone and listened to the praise songs in my library. Before I knew it, my bad mood had completely changed.
Little did I know that I was following a pattern set by the writer of Psalm 94. The psalmist first poured out his complaints: “Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. . . . Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:2, 16.) He didn’t hold anything back as he talked to God about injustice done to widows and orphans. Once he’d made his lament to God, the psalm transitioned into praise: “But the
God invites us to take our laments to Him. He can turn our fear, sadness, and helplessness into praise.
I respect my Aunt Gladys’s intrepid spirit, even if that very spirit concerns me sometimes. The source of my concern came in the form of news she shared in an email: “I cut down a walnut tree yesterday.”
You must understand that my chain-saw wielding aunt is seventy-six years old! The tree had grown up behind her garage. When the roots threatened to burst through the concrete, she knew it had to go. But she did tell us, “I always pray before I tackle a job like that.”
While serving as butler to the king of Persia during the time of Israel’s exile, Nehemiah heard news concerning the people who had returned to Jerusalem. Some work needed to be done. “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (1:3). The broken walls left them vulnerable to attack by enemies. Nehemiah had compassion for his people and wanted to get involved. But prayer came first, especially since a new king had written a letter to stop the building efforts in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4). Nehemiah prayed for his people (vv. 5–10), and then asked God for help before requesting permission from the king to leave (v. 11).
Is prayer your response? It’s always the best way to face any task or trial in life.
As we distributed snack food for children at a Bible School program, we noticed a very hungry little boy. After devouring his snack, he also ate the leftovers of the children at his table. Even after I gave him a bag of popcorn, he still was not satisfied.
As leaders, we were concerned as to why this little boy was so hungry. But are we perhaps like him when it comes to our emotions. We look for ways to satisfy our deepest longings, but we never find what fully satisfies us.
The prophet Isaiah invites those who are hungry and thirsty to “come, buy and eat” (Isaiah 55:1). But then he asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). Isaiah is talking about more than just physical hunger here. God can satisfy our spiritual and emotional hunger through the promise of His presence. The “everlasting covenant” in verse 3 is a reminder of a promise God made David in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. Through David’s family line, a Savior would come to reconnect people to God. Later, in John 6:35 and 7:37, Jesus extended the same invitation Isaiah gave, thus identifying Himself as the Savior foretold by Isaiah and other prophets.
Hungry? God invites you to come and be filled in His presence.
I’ve been quick to judge anyone I saw walking in the street while staring at a phone. How could they be so oblivious to the cars about to hit them? I’ve told myself. Don’t they care about their own safety? But one day, while crossing the entrance to an alleyway, I was so engrossed in a text message, that I missed seeing a car at my left. Thankfully, the driver saw me and came to an abrupt stop. But I felt ashamed. All of my self-righteous finger-pointing came back to haunt me. I had judged others, only to do the same thing myself.
My hypocrisy is the kind of thinking that Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus suggested, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I had a huge “plank”—a blind spot through which I judged others with impaired judgment.
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,” Jesus also said (7:2). Recalling the disgusted look on the driver’s face that day, after having to make an abrupt stop when I walked in front of the car, I’m reminded of the disgusted looks I gave others engrossed in their phones.
None of us is perfect. But sometimes I forget that in my haste to judge others. We’re all in need of God’s grace.