On a visit to Ireland, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of decorative shamrocks. The little green, three-leafed plant could be found in every store on seemingly everything—clothing, hats, jewelry, and more!
More than just a prolific plant across Ireland, the shamrock was embraced for generations as a simple way to explain the Trinity, the historic Christian belief that God is One essence who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. While all human explanations of the Trinity are inadequate, the shamrock is a helpful symbol because it is one plant made of the same substance with three distinct leaves.
The word “Trinity” isn’t found in Scripture, but it summarizes the theological truth we see explicit in passages where all three persons of the Trinity are present at the same time. When Jesus, God the Son, is baptized, God the Spirit is seen coming down from heaven “like a dove,” and God the Father’s voice is heard saying, “You are my Son” (Mark 1:11).
The Irish used the shamrock because they wanted to help people know God. As we more fully understand the beauty of the Trinity, it helps us know God and deepens our ability to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
When you listen to their stories, it becomes clear that perhaps the most difficult part of being a prisoner is isolation and loneliness. In fact, research reveals that in the state of Florida, regardless of the length of their incarceration, most prisoners receive only two visits from friends or loved ones during their time behind bars. Loneliness is a constant reality.
It’s a pain I imagine Joseph felt as he sat in prison, unjustly accused of a crime. There had been a glimmer of hope. God helped Joseph correctly interpret a dream from a fellow inmate who happened to be a trusted servant of Pharaoh. Joseph told the man he would be restored to his position and asked the man to mention him to Pharaoh so Joseph could gain his freedom (Genesis 40:14). But the man “did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (v. 23). For two more years, Joseph waited. In those years of waiting, without any sign that his circumstances would change, Joseph was never completely alone because God’s Spirit was with him (39:23). Eventually, the servant of Pharaoh remembered his promise and Joseph was released after correctly interpreting another dream (41:9—14).
Regardless of circumstances that make us feel we’ve been forgotten, and the feelings of loneliness that creep in, we can cling to God’s reassuring promise to His children: “I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
Malcolm Cloutt was named a 2021 Maundy Money honoree by Queen Elizabeth II, an annual service award given to British men and women. Cloutt, who was one hundred years old at the time of the recognition, was honored for having given out one thousand Bibles during his lifetime. Cloutt has kept a record of everyone who’s received a Bible and prays for them regularly.
Cloutt’s faithfulness in prayer is a powerful example of the kind of love we find throughout Paul’s writings in the New Testament. Paul often assured the recipients of his letters that he was regularly praying for them. To his friend Philemon he wrote, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Timothy 1:3). To the church in Rome, Paul emphasized that he remembered them in prayer “constantly” and “at all times” (Romans 1:9–10).
While we might not have a thousand people to pray for like Malcolm, intentional prayer for those we know is powerful because God responds to our prayers. When prompted and empowered by His Spirit to pray for a specific individual, I’ve found a simple prayer calendar can be a useful tool. Dividing names into a daily or weekly calendar helps me be faithful to pray. What a beautiful demonstration of love when we remember others in prayer.
Every Moment Holy is a beautiful book of prayers for a variety of activities, including ordinary ones like preparing a meal or doing the laundry. Necessary tasks that can feel repetitive or mundane. The book reminded me of the words of author G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
Such encouragement reorients my perspective on the activities of my day. Sometimes I’m inclined to divide my activities into ones that appear to have spiritual value, like reading devotions before a meal, and other activities I think have little spiritual value, such as doing the dishes after the meal. Paul erased that divide in a letter to the people of Colosse who had chosen to live for Jesus. He encouraged them with these words: “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17). Doing things in Jesus’ name means both honoring Jesus as we do them and having the assurance that His Spirit helps strengthen us to accomplish them.
“Whatever you do.” All the ordinary activities of our lives, every moment, can be empowered by God’s Spirit and done in a way that honors Jesus.
Despite knowing that the electricity wasn’t working in our house after a strong storm, an inconveniently common occurrence in our neighborhood, I instinctively flipped on the light switch when I entered the room. Of course, nothing happened. I was still enveloped in darkness.
That experience—expecting light even when I knew the connection to the power source was broken—vividly reminded me of a spiritual truth. Too often we expect power, even as we fail to rely on the Spirit.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote of the way God caused the gospel message to come “not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction” (1:5). And when we accept God’s forgiveness, believers too have immediate access to the power of His Spirit in our lives. That power cultivates in us characteristics such as love, joy, peace, and patience (Galatians 5:22–23) and it empowers us with gifts to serve the church, including service, teaching, and mercy (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Paul warned his readers that it’s possible to “quench the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). We might restrict the power of the Spirit by ignoring God’s presence or rejecting His conviction (John 16:8). But we don’t have to live disconnected. God’s power is always available to His children.
The seemingly impossible happened when hurricane-force winds changed the flow of the mighty Mississippi River. In August 2021, Hurricane Ida came ashore on the coast of Louisiana, and the astonishing result was a “negative flow,” meaning water actually flowed upriver for several hours.
Experts estimate that over its life cycle a hurricane can expend energy equivalent to 10,000 nuclear bombs! Such incredible power to change the course of flowing water helps me understand the Israelites’ response to a far more significant “negative flow” recorded in Exodus.
While fleeing the Egyptians who’d enslaved them for centuries, the Israelites came to the edge of the Red Sea. In front of them was a wide body of water and behind them was the heavily armored Egyptian army. In that seemingly impossible situation, “the
Responding with awe is natural after experiencing the immensity of God’s power. But it didn’t end there; the Israelites also “put their trust” in God (v. 31).
As we experience God’s power in creation, we too can stand in awe of His might and place our trust in Him.
In Texas, where I grew up, there were festive parades and picnics in Black communities every June 19. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned the heartbreaking significance of Juneteenth (a word combining “June” and “nineteenth”) celebrations. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation giving them their freedom—two-and-a-half years earlier. Enslaved people in Texas kept living in slavery because they didn’t know they had been freed.
It's possible to be free and yet live as slaves. In Galatians, Paul wrote about another kind of slavery: living life under the crushing demands of religious rules. In this pivotal verse, Paul encouraged his readers that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves by burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Believers in Jesus had been set free from external regulations including what to eat and who to befriend. Many, however, still lived as if they were enslaved.
Unfortunately, we can do the same thing today. But the reality is that Jesus set us free from living in fear of man-made religious standards the moment we trusted in Him. Freedom has been proclaimed. Let’s live it out in His power.
While our family quarantined due to the global pandemic, we took on an ambitious project—an 18,000-piece puzzle! Even though we worked on it almost daily, often we felt like we weren’t making much progress. Five months after we began, we finally celebrated adding the final piece to the nine feet long and six feet wide puzzle that covered our dining room floor.
Sometimes my life feels a bit like a giant puzzle—many pieces in place, but a whole lot more still lying in a jumble on the floor. While I know that God is at work transforming me to be more and more like Jesus, sometimes it can be hard to see much progress.
I take great comfort in Paul’s encouragement in his letter to the Philippians when he said he prayed for them with joy because of the good work they were doing (1:3–4). But his confidence came not in their abilities but in God, believing that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (v. 6).
God has promised to finish His work in us. Like a puzzle, there may be sections that still need our attention, and there are times when we don’t seem to make much progress. But we can have confidence that our faithful God is still putting the pieces together.
A viral video of a mama bear trying to get her four energetic little cubs across a busy street brought a knowing smile to my face. It was delightfully relatable to watch her pick up her cubs one-by-one and carry them across the road—only to have the cubs wander back to the other side. After many seemingly frustrating attempts, the mama bear finally corralled all four of her cubs, and they made it safely across the road.
The tireless work of parenting symbolized in the video matches imagery used by Paul to describe his care for the people in the church of Thessalonica. Instead of emphasizing his authority, the apostle compared his work among them to a mother and father caring for young children (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11). It was deep love for the Thessalonians (v. 8) that motivated Paul’s ongoing efforts to encourage, comfort, and urge them “to live lives worthy of God” (v. 12). This impassioned call to godly living was borne out of his loving desire to see them honor God in all areas of their lives.
Paul’s example can serve as a guide for us in all our leadership opportunities—especially when the responsibilities make us weary. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we can gently and persistently love those under our care as we encourage and guide them toward Jesus.