“It can be an affliction more harrowing than homelessness, hunger or disease,” wrote Maggie Fergusson in The Economist’s 1843 magazine. Her subject? Loneliness. Fergusson chronicled the increasing rates of loneliness, irrespective of one’s social or economic status, using heart-wrenching examples of what it feels like to be lonely.
The hurt of feeling alone is not new to our day. Indeed, the pain of isolation echoes off the pages of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Often attributed to King Solomon, the book captures the sorrow of those who seem to lack any meaningful relationships (4:7–8). The speaker lamented that it is possible to acquire significant wealth, and yet experience no value from it, because there is no one to share it with.
But the speaker also recognized the beauty of companionship, writing that friends help you accomplish more than you could achieve on your own (v. 9); companions help in times of need (v. 10); partners bring comfort (v. 11); and friends can provide protection in difficult situations (v. 12).
Loneliness is a significant struggle, because God created us to offer, and receive, the benefits of friendship and community. If you’re feeling alone, pray that God would help you form meaningful connections with others. In the meantime, find encouragement in the reality that the believer is never truly alone, because Christ’s Spirit is always with us (Matthew 28:20).
Among the many exhibits and artifacts exploring the harsh reality of slavery and its aftermath in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, I was grateful to discover the Contemplative Court. This tranquil room features translucent walls of bronze glass, and water appears to rain down from the ceiling into a pool.
As I sat in that peaceful space, a quote on the wall from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught my eye: “We are determined . . . to work and fight until justice rains down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” These powerful words are drawn from the Old Testament book of Amos.
Amos was a prophet living among a people who were involved in religious activities, such as celebrating festivals and offering sacrifices, but whose hearts were far from God (Amos 5:21–23). God rejected their activities because they’d turned away from His commands, including those regarding justice toward the needy and oppressed.
Instead of religious ceremonies devoid of love for God and others, Amos wrote that God longed for His people to demonstrate genuine concern for the welfare of all people, a generous way of living that would be a mighty river bringing life wherever it flowed.
Jesus taught the same truth that loving God is connected with loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:37–39). As we seek to love God, may it come from hearts that also treasure justice.
“Taps” is a trumpet call played by the US military at the end of the day as well as at funerals. I was amazed when I read the unofficial lyrics and discovered that many of the verses end with the phrase “God is nigh” (God is near). Both before the dark of each night settles in or while mourning the loss of a loved one, the lyrics offer soldiers the beautiful assurance that God is near.
In the Old Testament, sounding trumpets was also a reminder, to the Israelites, that God was near. In the middle of celebrating the feasts and festivals that were part of the covenant agreement between God and the nation of Israel, the Jews were to “sound the trumpets” (Numbers 10:10). And blowing a trumpet was a reminder, not only that God was near but that He was also available when they needed Him most and longed to help them.
Today, we still need reminders that God is near. And in our own style of worship, we too can call out to God in prayer and song. Perhaps our prayers can be thought of as trumpets asking God to help us. And the beautiful encouragement is that God always hears those calls (1 Peter 3:12). To each of our pleas, He responds with the assurance of His presence that strengthens and comforts us in the difficulties and sorrows of life.
Every Christmas we decorate our home with nativity scenes from around the world. We have a German nativity pyramid, a manager scene fashioned out of olive wood from Bethlehem, and a brightly colored Mexican folk version. Our family favorite is a whimsical entry from Africa. Instead of the more traditional sheep and camels, a hippopotamus gazes contently at the baby Jesus.
The unique cultural perspective brought to life in these nativity scenes warms my heart as I ponder each beautiful reminder that Jesus’s birth was not just for one nation or culture. It is good news for the whole earth, a reason for people from every country and ethnicity to rejoice.
The little baby depicted in each of our nativity scenes revealed this truth of God’s heart for the entire world. As John wrote in relation to Christ’s conversation with an inquisitive Pharisee named Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The gift of Jesus is good news for everyone. No matter where on earth you call home, Jesus’s birth is God’s offer of love and peace to you. And all who find new life in Christ, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) will one day celebrate God’s glory forever and ever.
Country artist Chris Stapleton’s deeply personal song, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” was inspired by his own father’s prayers for him. The poignant lyrics reveal the reason his father’s prayers ended: not disillusionment or weariness, but his own death. Stapleton imagines that now, instead of speaking with Jesus in prayer, his dad is walking and talking face-to-face with Jesus.
Stapleton’s recollection of his father’s prayers for him brings to mind a biblical father’s prayer for his son. As King David’s life ebbed away, David was making preparations for his son Solomon to take over as the next king of Israel.
After assembling the nation together to anoint Solomon, David led the people in prayer, as he’d done many times before. As David recounted God’s faithfulness to Israel, he prayed for the people to remain loyal to God. Then he included a personal prayer specifically for his son, asking God to “give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees” (1 Chronicles 29:19).W
We too have the remarkable privilege to faithfully pray for the people God has placed in our life. Our example of faithfulness can make an indelible impact that will remain even after we’re gone. Just as God continued to work out the answers to David’s prayers for Solomon and Israel after he was gone, so too the impact of our prayers outlive us.
When we purchased our home, we also inherited an established grapevine. As gardening novices, my family invested considerable time learning how to prune, water, and care for it. When our first harvest came, I popped a grape from the vine into my mouth—only to be disappointed with an unpleasant, sour taste.
The frustration I felt about painstakingly tending a grapevine, only to have a bitter harvest, echoes the tone of Isaiah 5. There we read an allegory of God’s relationship to the nation of Israel. God, pictured as a farmer, had cleared the hillside of debris, planted good vines, built a watchtower for protection, and crafted a press to enjoy the results of his expected harvest (Isaiah 5:1–2). To the farmer’s dismay, the vineyard, representing Israel, produced sour-tasting grapes of selfishness, injustice, and oppression (v. 7). Eventually, God reluctantly destroyed the vineyard while saving a remnant of vines that someday would produce a good harvest.
In the gospel of John, Jesus revisits the vineyard illustration, saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). In this parallel imagery Jesus pictures us, His followers, as grapevine branches connected to Him, the main vine. Now, as we remain connected to Jesus through prayerful reliance on His Spirit, we have direct access to the spiritual nourishment that will produce the sweetest fruit of all, love.
I am one of millions of people worldwide who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression common in places with limited sunlight due to short winter days. When I begin to fear winter’s frozen curse will never end, I’m eager for any evidence that longer days and warmer temperatures are coming.
The first signs of spring—flowers successfully braving their way through the lingering snow—also powerfully remind me of the way God’s hope can break through even our darkest seasons. The prophet Micah confessed this even while enduring a heart-rending “winter” as the Israelites turned away from God. As Micah assessed the bleak situation, he lamented that “not one upright person” seemed to remain (Micah 7:2).
Yet, even though the situation appeared dire, the prophet refused to give up hope. He trusted that God was at work (v. 7)—even if, amid the devastation, he couldn’t yet see the evidence.
In our dark and sometimes seemingly endless “winters,” when spring doesn’t appear to be breaking through, we face the same struggle as Micah. Will we give into despair? Or will we “watch in hope for the L
Our hope in God is never wasted (Romans 5:5). He is bringing a time with no more “winter”: a time with no more mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until then, may we rest in Him, confessing, “My hope is in you” (Psalm 39:7).
I stood amazed at the hundreds of thousands of padlocks, many engraved with the initials of sweethearts, attached to every imaginable part of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. The pedestrian bridge across the Seine River was inundated with these symbols of love, a couple’s declaration of “forever” commitment. In 2014, the love locks were estimated to weigh a staggering fifty tons and even caused a portion of the bridge to collapse, necessitating the locks’ removal.
The presence of so many love locks points to the deep longing we have as human beings for assurance that love is secure. In Song of Songs, an Old Testament book that depicts a dialogue between two lovers, the woman expresses her desire for secure love by asking her beloved to “place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm” (Song of Songs 8:6). Her longing was to be as safe and secure in his love as a seal impressed on his heart or a ring on his finger.
The longing for enduring romantic love expressed in Song of Songs points us to the New Testament truth in Ephesians that we are marked with the “seal” of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). While human love can be fickle, and locks can be removed from a bridge, Christ’s Spirit, living in us, is a permanent seal demonstrating God’s never-ending, committed love for each of His children.
Riptide. Batgirl. Jumpstart. These are a few names given to counselors at Gull Lake Ministries, the summer camp our family attends every year. Created by their peers, the camp nicknames usually derive from an embarrassing incident, a funny habit, or a favorite hobby.
Nicknames are not limited to camp—we even find them used in the Bible. For example, Jesus dubs the apostles James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). It is rare in Scripture for someone to give themselves a nickname, yet it happens when a woman named Naomi asks people to call her “Mara,” which means bitterness (Ruth 1:20), because both her husband and two sons had died. She felt that God had made her life bitter (v. 21).
The new name Naomi gave herself didn’t stick, however, because her devastating losses were not the end of her story. In the midst of her sorrow, God had blessed her with a loving daughter-in-law, Ruth, who eventually remarried and had a son, creating a family for Naomi again.
Although we might sometimes be tempted to give ourselves bitter nicknames, like “failure” or “unloved,” based on difficulties we’ve experienced or mistakes we’ve made, those names are not the end of our stories, either. We can replace those labels with the name God has given each of us, “beloved child” (Romans 9:25–26), and look for the ways He is providing for us in even the most challenging of times.