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.
After being laid off from an editorial job, I prayed, asking for God to help me find a new one. But when weeks went by and nothing came of my attempts at networking and filling out applications, I began to pout. “Don’t You know how important it is that I have a job?” I asked God, my arms folded in protest at my seemingly unanswered prayer.
When I talked to my father, who had often reminded me about believing God’s promises, about my job situation, he said, “I want you to get to the point where you trust what God says.”
My father’s advice reminds me of Proverbs 3, which includes wise advice from a parent to a beloved child. This familiar passage was especially applicable to my situation: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). To “make . . . paths straight” means God will guide us toward His goals for our growth. His ultimate goal is that I become more like Him.
This does not mean that the paths He chooses will be easy. But I can choose to trust that His direction and timing are ultimately for my good.
Are you waiting on God for an answer? Choose to draw near to Him and trust that He will guide you.
My friend Carrie’s five-year-old daughter, Maija, has an interesting approach to playtime. She loves mixing together dolls from different playsets to come up with a new community. In the world of her imagination, everything belongs together. These are her people. She believes they are happiest when they’re together, despite being different sizes and shapes.
Her creativity reminds me of God’s purpose for the church. On the day of Pentecost, Luke tells us, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Though these people were from different cultures and spoke different languages, the Holy Spirit’s arrival made them a new community: the church. From then on, they would be considered one body, unified by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The leaders of this new group were a group of men Jesus brought together during His time on earth—His disciples. If Jesus hadn’t united them, more than likely they would never have come together. And now more people—“about three thousand” (2:41)—had become Christ-followers. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, this once divided group “had everything in common” (v. 44). They were willing to share what they had with each other.
The Holy Spirit continues to bridge the gaps between people groups. We might not always get along, nor readily understand one another. But as believers in Christ, we belong together.
When a coworker called in sick due to extreme pain, everyone at the office was concerned. After a trip to the hospital and a day of bed rest, he returned to work and showed us the source of that pain—a kidney stone. He’d asked his doctor to give him the stone as a souvenir. Looking at that stone, I winced in sympathy, remembering the gallstone I had passed years ago. The pain had been excruciating.
Isn’t it interesting that something so small can cause a whole body so much agony? But in a way, that’s what the apostle Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” Throughout chapter 12, Paul used the metaphor of a body to describe Christians around the world. When Paul said, “God has put the body together” (v. 24), he was referring to the entire body of Christ—all Christians. We all have different gifts and roles. But since we’re all part of the same body, if one person hurts, we all hurt. When a fellow Christian faces persecution, grief, or trials, we hurt as if we’re experiencing that pain.
My coworker’s pain drove him to get the help his body needed. In the body of Christ, someone’s pain ignites our compassion and moves us toward action. We might pray, offer a word of encouragement, or do whatever it takes to aid the healing process. That’s how the body works together.
While shopping for a humidifier, I noticed an older woman walking back and forth down the aisle. Wondering if she was shopping for humidifiers also, I moved aside to allow her to draw near. Soon we chatted about a flu virus in our area, one that left her with a lingering cough and headache.
A few minutes later, she launched into a bitter tirade, expressing her theory about the origin of the virus. I listened, unsure what to do. She soon left the store, still angry and frustrated. Though she had expressed her frustration, I couldn’t do anything to take away that pain.
David, Israel’s second king, wrote psalms to express his anger and frustration to God. But David knew that God not only listened, He could also do something about his pain. In Psalm 61, he writes, “I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (v. 1). God was his “refuge” (v. 3)—the “rock” to which David ran.
When we’re in pain, or come in contact with someone in pain, David’s example is a good one to follow. We can head to “the rock that is higher” or lead someone there. I wish I had mentioned God to the woman at the store. While God may not take away all our pain, we can rest in the peace He provides and the assurance that He hears our cry.
“It’s cancer.” I wanted to be strong when Mom said those words to me. But I burst into tears. You never want to hear those words even one time. But this was Mom’s third bout of cancer. After a routine mammogram and biopsy, Mom learned that she had a malignant tumor under her arm.
Though Mom was the one with bad news, she had to comfort me. Her response was eye opening for me: “I know God is always good to me. He’s always faithful.” Even as she faced a difficult surgery, followed up by radiation treatments, Mom was assured of God’s presence and faithfulness.
How like Job. Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health. But after hearing the news, Job 1:20 tells us, “He fell to the ground in worship.” When advised to curse God, he said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10). What a radical initial response. Though Job later complained, ultimately he accepted that God had never changed. Job knew that God was still with him and that He still cared.
For most of us, praise is not our first response to difficulties. Sometimes the pain of our circumstances is so overwhelming, we lash out in fear or anger. But watching Mom’s response reminded me that God is still present, still good. He will help us through hard times.