Fear can leave us frozen in our own lives. We know all the reasons to be afraid—everything that’s hurt us in the past, everything that could easily do so again. So sometimes we’re stuck—unable to go back; too afraid to move forward. I just can’t do it. I’m not smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to handle being hurt like that again.
I’m captivated by how author Frederick Buechner describes God’s grace—like a gentle voice that says, “Here is the world. Terrible and beautiful things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
Terrible things will happen. In our world, hurting people hurt other people, often terribly. Like the psalmist David, we carry our own stories of when evil surrounded us, when, like “ravenous beasts,” others wounded us (Psalm 57:4). And so we grieve; we cry out (vv. 1–2).
But because God is with us, beautiful things can happen too. As we run to Him with our hurts and fears, we find ourselves carried by a love far greater than anyone’s power to harm us (vv. 1–3), a love so deep it fills the skies (v. 10). Even when disaster rages around us, His love is a solid refuge where our hearts find healing (vv. 1,7). Until one day we’ll find ourselves awakening to renewed courage, ready to greet the day with a song of His faithfulness (vv. 8–10).
In Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, a cantankerous man who often quotes the Bible to criticize others is memorably described as “the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake [apply] the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours.”
It’s a funny line; and it may even bring particular people to mind. But aren’t we all a bit like this—prone to condemn others’ failures while excusing our own?
In Scripture some people amazingly did the exact opposite—willing to give up God’s promises for them and even be cursed if it would save others. Consider Moses, who said he’d rather be blotted out of God’s book than see the Israelites unforgiven (Exodus 32:32). Or Paul, who said he’d choose to be “cut off from Christ” if it meant his people would find Him (Romans 9:3).
As self-righteous as we naturally are, Scripture highlights those who love others more than themselves.
Because ultimately such love points to Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus taught, than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Even before we knew Him, Jesus loved us “to the end” (13:1)—choosing death to give us life.
Now we are invited into the family of God, to love and be loved like this (15:9–12). And as we pour into others Christ’s unimaginable love, the world will catch a glimpse of Him.
I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm. As kids, whenever a storm was truly incredible—with booming thunder and buckets of heavy rain pounding down—my siblings and I would make a mad dash around the outside of our house, slipping and sliding along the way. When it was time to go back inside, we were soaked to the bone.
It was an exhilarating taste—for just for a few minutes—of being immersed in something so powerful we couldn’t quite tell whether we were having fun or terrified.
This picture comes to mind when, as in Psalm 107, Scripture compares God’s restoration to a barren wilderness transformed into “pools of water” (v. 35). Because the kind of storm that transforms a desert into an oasis isn’t a gentle shower—it’s a downpour, flooding every crack of parched ground with new life.
And isn’t that the kind of restoration we long for? When our stories feel like tales of aimless wandering because we are “hungry and thirsty”—starving—for healing that never seems to arrive (vv. 4–5), we need more than a bit of hope. And when deep-rooted patterns of sin leave us trapped “in utter darkness” (vv. 10–11), our hearts need more than a little change.
That’s exactly the kind of transformation our God can bring (v. 20). It’s never too late to bring our fears and shame to the One who’s more than able to break our chains and flood our darkness with His light (vv. 13–14).
A college professor of mine, picking up on my perfectionism-induced procrastination, gave me some wise advice. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said, explaining that striving for perfect performance can prevent the risks necessary for growth. Accepting that my work would always be imperfect would give me the freedom to never stop growing.
The apostle Paul explained an even more profound reason to let go of our own efforts to perfect ourselves: it can blind us to our need for Christ.
Paul had learned this the hard way. After years striving to perfectly obey God’s law, encountering Jesus changed everything (Galatians 1:11–16). Paul realized that if his own efforts were enough to be whole and right with God, “then there was no need for Christ to die” (2:21
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t resist sin (v. 17); but it does mean we should stop relying on our own strength to grow spiritually (v. 20).
In this lifetime, we will always be works in progress. But as our hearts humbly accept our constant need for the only perfect One, Jesus makes His home there (Ephesians 3:17
I got myself into this mess, so I’d better get myself out, I sometimes find myself thinking. Although I believe in a God of grace, I’m still prone to act as if His help is available only when I deserve it.
God’s first encounter with Jacob is a beautiful illustration of how untrue this is.
Jacob had spent a lifetime trying to alter his destiny. He’d been born second at a time when firstborn sons typically received their father’s blessing—believed to guarantee future prosperity.
So Jacob decided to do whatever it would take to get his father’s blessing anyway. Eventually, he succeeded—through deceit—obtaining the blessing intended for his brother (Genesis 27:19–29).
But the price was a divided family, as Jacob fled from his furious brother (vv. 41–43). As night descended (28:11), Jacob must have felt as far from a life of blessing as ever.
But it was there, leaving behind a trail of deception, that Jacob met God. God showed him he didn’t need desperate schemes to be blessed; he already was. His destiny—a purpose far greater than material prosperity (v. 14)—was held securely by the One who would never leave him (v. 15).
It was a lesson Jacob would spend his whole life learning.
And so will we. No matter how many regrets we carry or how distant God seems, He is still there—gently guiding us out of our mess into His blessing.
My high school cross-country coach once advised me before a race, “Don’t try to be in the lead. The leaders almost always burn out too quickly.” Instead, he suggested I stay close behind the fastest runners. By letting them set the pace, I could conserve the mental and physical strength I’d need to finish the race well.
Leading can be exhausting; following can be freeing. Knowing this improved my running, but it took me a lot longer to realize how this applies to Christian discipleship. In my own life, I was prone to think being a believer in Jesus meant trying really hard. By pursuing my own exhausting expectations for what a Christian should be, I was inadvertently missing the joy and freedom found in simply following Him (John 8:32, 36).
But we weren’t meant to direct our own lives, and Jesus didn’t start a self-improvement program. Instead, He promised that in seeking Him we will find the rest we long for (Matthew 11:25–28). Unlike many other religious teachers’ emphasis on rigorous study of Scripture or an elaborate set of rules, Jesus taught that it’s simply through knowing Him that we know God (v. 27). In seeking Him, we find our heavy burdens lifted (vv. 28–30) and our lives transformed.
Because following Him, our gentle and humble Leader (v. 29), is never burdensome—it’s the way of hope and healing. Resting in His love, we are free.
When I first graduated from college, I found myself needing to adopt a strict grocery budget—twenty-five dollars a week, to be exact. One day, while entering the checkout line, I suspected the groceries I’d selected cost slightly more than my remaining money. “Just stop when we reach twenty dollars,” I told the cashier, and was able to purchase everything I’d selected but a bag of peppers.
As I was about to drive home, a man stopped by my car. “Here’s your peppers, ma’am,” he said, handing the bag to me. Before I had time to thank him, he was already walking away.
Remembering the simple goodness of this act of kindness still warms my heart and brings to mind Jesus’s words in Matthew 6. Criticizing those who made a show of giving to the needy (v. 2), Jesus taught His disciples a different way. Instead of making giving all about them and their generosity, He urged, giving should be done so secretly that it’s like their left hand isn’t even aware their right is giving (v. 3)!
As one person’s anonymous kindness reminded me, giving should never be about us. We give only because of what our generous God has so lavishly given us (2 Corinthians 9:6–11). As we give quietly and generously, we reflect who He is—and God receives the thanksgiving only He deserves (v. 11).
Lately, as I’ve been skimming financial advice books, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. While almost all such books have good advice, many imply that the primary reason to cut costs is to live like millionaires later. But one book offered a refreshingly different perspective, arguing that living simply is essential for a rich life. If you need more or fancier stuff to feel joy, the book suggested, “You’re missing the point of being alive.”
Those insightful words brought to mind Jesus’s response when a man asked Him to urge his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Instead of sympathizing, Jesus dismissed him abruptly before warning sternly about “all kinds of greed”—because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:14–15). He then described a wealthy person’s plans to store his crops and enjoy a luxurious lifestyle—the first-century version of retirement planning—with a blistering conclusion. His wealth did him no good, since he died that night (vv. 16–20).
Although we are responsible to use our resources wisely, Jesus’s words remind us to check our motivation. Our hearts should be focused on pursuing God’s kingdom—knowing Him and serving others—not on securing our own futures (vv. 29–31). As we live for Him and freely share with others, we can fully enjoy a rich life with Him now—in the kingdom that gives meaning to all of life (vv. 32–34).
Sometimes our lives can change in a moment through the powerful impact of others. For rock ‘n’ roll legend Bruce Springsteen, it was the work of musical artists that helped him through a difficult childhood and a persistent struggle with depression. He found meaning in his own work through the truth he’d experienced firsthand, that “You can change someone’s life in three minutes with the right song.”
Like a compelling song, others’ well-chosen words can also give us hope, even change the course of our lives. I’m sure most of us could share stories of a conversation that forever impacted our lives—words from a teacher that changed the way we saw the world, words of encouragement that restored our confidence, gentle words from a friend that carried us through a difficult time.
Perhaps this why the book of Proverbs spends so much time emphasizing our responsibility to treasure words and use them wisely. Scripture never treats speech as if it’s “just talk.” Instead, we are taught that our words can have life-or-death consequences (Proverbs 18:21). In just a few words we could crush someone’s spirit, or, through words of wisdom and hope, nourish, and strengthen others (Proverbs 15:4).
Not all of us have the ability to create powerful music. But we each can seek God’s wisdom to serve others through our speech (Psalm 141:3). With just a few well-chosen words, God can use us to change a life.