“The shepherd needs great wisdom and a thousand eyes,” wrote the beloved church father John Chrysostom, “to examine the soul’s condition from every angle.” Chrysostom wrote these words as part of a discussion on the complexity of caring well for others spiritually. Since it’s impossible to force anyone to heal, he emphasized, reaching others’ hearts requires great empathy and compassion.
But that doesn’t mean never causing pain, Chrysostom cautioned, because “if you behave too leniently to one who needs deep surgery, and do not make a deep incision in one who requires it, you mutilate yet miss the cancer. But if you make the needed incision without mercy, often the patient, in despair at his sufferings, throws all aside . . . and promptly throws himself over a cliff.”
There’s a similar complexity in how Jude describes responding to those led astray by false teachers, whose behavior he describes starkly (1:12–13, 18–19). Yet when Jude turns to how to respond to such grave threats, he doesn’t suggest reacting with harsh anger.
Instead, he taught that believers should respond to threats by rooting themselves even more deeply in God’s love (vv. 20–21). For it’s only when we’re deeply anchored in God’s unchanging love that we can find the wisdom to help others with appropriate urgency, humility, and compassion (vv. 22–23)—the way most likely to help them find healing and rest in God’s boundless love.
In 2019, Cap Dashwood and his sweet black lab companion, Chaela (“la” Dashwood’s abbreviation for “Labrador angel”), accomplished something remarkable: reaching a mountain summit each day for 365 consecutive days.
Dashwood has a moving story to tell. He left home at sixteen, explaining simply, “Bad family life.” But these past wounds led him to find healing elsewhere. He explains, “Sometimes when you’re disappointed by people, you turn to something else. You know?” For Dashwood, mountain climbing and the unconditional love of his black lab companion has been a big part of that “something else.”
For those of us, like myself, who deeply love our animal companions, a big piece of why we do is the sweet, utterly unconditional love they pour out—a kind of love that’s rare. But I like to think the love they effortlessly give points to a much greater and deeper reality than the failures of others—God’s unshakeable, boundless love upholding the universe.
In Psalm 143, as in many of his prayers, it is only David’s faith in that unshakable, “unfailing love” (v. 12) that tethers him to hope in a time when he feels utterly alone. But a lifetime of walking with God gives him just enough strength to trust that the morning will “bring me word of your unfailing love” (v. 8).
Just enough hope to trust again and to let God lead the way to paths unknown (v. 8).
“Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel was the law we lived by,” says Frederick Buechner in his powerful memoir Telling Secrets, “and woe to the one who broke it.” Buechner is describing his experience of what he calls the “unwritten law of families who for one reason or another have gone out of whack.” In his own family, that “law” meant Buechner was not allowed to talk about or grieve his father’s suicide, leaving him with no one he could trust with his pain.
Can you relate? Many of us in one way or another have learned to live with a warped version of love, one that demands dishonesty or silence about what’s harmed us. That kind of “love” relies on fear for control—and is a kind of slavery.
We can’t afford to forget just how different Jesus’ invitation to love is from the kind of conditional love we often experience—a kind of love we’re always afraid we could lose. As Paul explains, through Christ’s love, we can finally understand what it means to not live in fear (Romans 8:5) and start to understand the kind of glorious freedom (v. 21) that’s possible when we know we’re deeply, truly, and unconditionally loved. We’re free to talk, to trust, and to feel once more—to learn what it means to live unafraid.
The Dan Hotel in Jerusalem became known by a different name in 2020—“Hotel Corona.” The government dedicated the hotel to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the hotel became known as a rare site of joy and unity during a difficult time. Since the residents already had the virus, they were free to sing, dance, and laugh together. And they did! In a country where tensions between different political and religious groups runs high, the shared crisis created a space where people could learn to see each other as human beings first—and even become friends.
It’s natural, normal even, for us to be drawn toward those we see as similar to us, people we suspect share similar experiences and values to our own. But as the apostle Paul often emphasized, the gospel is a challenge to any barriers between human beings that we see as “normal” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Through the lens of the gospel, we see a bigger picture than our differences—a shared brokenness and a shared longing and need to experience healing in God’s love.
If we believe that “one died for all,” then we can also no longer be content with surface-level assumptions about others. Instead, “Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14) to share His love and mission with those God loves more than we can imagine—all of us.
There are some images so powerful they can never be forgotten. That was my experience of a famous photograph of the late Princess Diana of Wales. At first glance, the captured scene looks mundane: smiling warmly, the princess is shaking the hand of an unidentified man. But it's the photograph's story that makes it remarkable.
On April 19, 1987, when Princess Diana visited London Middlesex Hospital, the United Kingdom was engulfed in a wave of panic as it confronted the AIDS epidemic. Not knowing how the disease—which often killed with terrifying speed—was spread, the public at times treated AIDS victims like social pariahs.
So it was a stunning moment when Diana, with ungloved hands and a genuine smile, calmly shook an AIDS patient's hand that day. That image of respect and kindness would move the world to treat victims of the disease with similar mercy and compassion.
The picture reminds me of something I often forget: that freely and generously offering the love of Jesus to others is always worth it, no matter the risk. As John reminded early believers in Christ, to let love wither or hide in the face of our fear is really to live “in death” (1 John 3:14). And to love freely and unafraid, filled and empowered with the Spirit’s self-giving love, is to experience resurrection life in all its fullness (vv. 14, 16).
One of the most moving songs in the musical The Greatest Showman is “From Now On.” Sung after the main character comes to some painful self-realizations about the ways he’d wounded family and friends, the song celebrates the joy of coming back home and finding that what we already have is more than enough.
The book of Hosea concludes with a similar tone—one of breathless joy and gratitude at the restoration God makes possible for those who return to Him. Much of the book, which compares the relationship between God and His people to a relationship with an unfaithful spouse, grieves Israel’s failures to love Him and live for Him.
But in chapter 14, Hosea lifts up the promise of God’s boundless love, grace, and restoration—freely available to those who return to Him heartbroken over the ways they’ve abandoned Him (vv. 1–3). “I will heal their waywardness,” God promises, “and love them freely” (v. 4). And what had seemed broken beyond repair will once more find wholeness and abundance, as God’s grace, like dew, causes His people to “blossom like a lily” and “flourish like the grain” (vv. 5–7).
When we’ve hurt others or taken for granted God’s goodness in our life, it’s easy to assume we’ve forever marred the good gifts we’ve been given. But when we humbly turn to Him, we find His love is always reaching to embrace and restore.
Needles, milk, mushrooms, elevators, births, bees, and bees in blenders—these are just a fraction of the many phobias attributed to Mr. Adrian Monk, detective and title character of the TV show Monk. But when he and long-time rival Harold Krenshaw find themselves locked in a car trunk, Monk has a breakthrough that allows him to cross at least one fear off the list—claustrophobia.
It’s while Monk and Harold are both panicking that the epiphany comes, abruptly interrupting Monk’s angst. “I think we’ve been looking at this the wrong way,” he tells Harold. “This trunk, these walls . . . they’re not closing in on us. . . . they’re protecting us, really. They’re keeping the bad stuff out. . . . germs, and snakes, and harmonicas.” Eyes widening, Harold sees what he means and whispers in wonder, “This trunk is our friend.”
In Psalm 63, it’s almost as if David has a similar epiphany. Despite being in a “dry and parched land,” when David remembers God’s power, glory, and love (vv. 2–3), it’s as if the desert transforms into a place of God’s care and protection. Like a baby bird hiding in the shelter of a mother’s wings, David finds that when he clings to God, even in that barren place he can feast “as with the richest of foods” (v. 5), finding nourishment and strength in a love that “is better than life” (v. 3).
In the past year or so, a number of authors have urged believers to take a fresh look at the “vocabulary” of our faith. One writer, for example, emphasized that even theologically rich words of faith can lose their impact when, through overfamiliarity and overuse, we lose touch with the depths of the gospel and our need for God. When that happens, he suggested, we may need to relearn the language of faith “from scratch,” letting go of our assumptions until we can see the good news for the first time.
The invitation to learn to “speak God from scratch” reminds me of Paul, who devoted his life to “become all things to all people . . . for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:22–23). He never assumed he knew best how to communicate what Jesus had done. Instead, he relied on constant prayer and pleaded for fellow believers to pray for him as well—to help him find “the right words” (Ephesians 6:19 nlt) to share the good news.
The apostle also knew the need for each believer in Christ to remain humble and receptive each day to their need for deeper roots in His love (3:16–17). For it’s only as we deepen our roots in God’s love, each day becoming more aware of our dependence on His grace, that we can begin to find the right words to share the incredible news of what He’s done for us.
“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” This sentence, pronounced by Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is the reason I will never forget that novel and its impact on me. Because after reading that one sentence, I firmly decided I would never like Mr. Darcy.
But I was wrong. Like Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennet, I had the humbling experience of slowly—and quite reluctantly—changing my mind. Like her, I’d been unwilling to get to know Darcy’s character as a whole; I preferred to hang onto my reaction to one of his worst moments. After finishing the novel, I wondered who I’d made that same mistake with in the real world. What friendships had I missed because I wouldn’t let go of a snap judgment?
At the heart of faith in Jesus is the experience of being seen, loved, and embraced by our Savior—at our worst (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19). It’s the wonder of realizing we can surrender our old, false selves for who we truly are in Christ (Ephesians 4:23–24). And it’s the joy of understanding that we are no longer alone but part of a family, a “body” of those learning to walk the “way of love”—real, unconditional love (5:2).
When we remember what Christ has done for us (v. 2), how can we not long to see others the way He sees us?