In northern Thailand, the Wild Boars youth soccer team decided to explore a cave together. After an hour they turned to go back, and found that the entrance to the cave was flooded. Rising water pushed them deeper into the cave, day after day, until they were finally trapped four kilometers inside. When they were heroically rescued two weeks later, many wondered how they had become so hopelessly trapped. Answer: one step at a time.
In Israel, Nathan confronted David for killing his loyal soldier, Uriah. How did the man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) become guilty of murder? One step at a time. David did not go from zero to murder in one afternoon. He warmed up to it, over time, as one bad decision bled into other, worse decisions. It started with a second glance that turned into a lustful stare. He abused his kingly power by sending for Bathsheba, then tried to cover up her pregnancy by calling her husband home from the front. When Uriah refused to visit his wife while his comrades were at war, David decided he would have to die.
We may not be guilty of murder or trapped in a cave of our own making, but we are either moving toward Jesus or toward trouble. Big problems don’t develop overnight. They break upon us gradually, one step at a time. Where are you headed?
Now an accomplished writer, Caitlin describes the depression she battled after fighting off an assault. The emotional violence cut deeper than her physical struggle, for she felt it proved “how undesirable I was. I was not the kind of girl you wanted to get to know.” She felt unworthy of love, the kind of person others use and toss aside.
God understands. He lovingly shepherded Israel, but when He asked them what He was worth, “they paid me thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). This was the price of a slave; what masters must be reimbursed should their slave be accidentally killed (Exodus 21:32). God was insulted to be offered the lowest possible value—look at “the handsome price at which they valued me!” He said sarcastically (Zechariah 11:13). And He threw the money away.
Jesus understands. He wasn’t merely betrayed by His friend; He was betrayed with contempt. The Jewish leaders despised Jesus, so they offered Judas thirty pieces of silver—the lowest price you could put on a person—and he took it (Matthew 26:14–15; 27:9). Judas thought so little of Jesus he sold Him for nearly nothing.
If people undervalued Jesus, don’t be surprised when they undervalue you. Your value is not what others say. It’s not even what you say. It’s entirely and only what God says. He thinks you are worth dying for.
Pastor Watson Jones remembers learning to ride a bike. His father was walking alongside when little Watson saw some girls sitting on a porch. “Daddy, I got this!” he said. He didn’t. He realized too late he hadn’t learned to balance without his father’s steadying grip. He wasn’t as grown up as he thought.
Our heavenly Father longs for us to grow up and “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). But spiritual maturity is different from natural maturity. Parents raise their children to become independent, to no longer need them. Our divine Father raises us to daily depend on Him more.
Peter begins his letter by promising “grace and peace . . . through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” and he ends by urging us to “grow in” that same “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:2; 3:18). Mature Christians never outgrow their need for Jesus.
Watson warns, “Some of us are busy slapping Jesus’s hands off the handlebars of our life.” As if we didn’t need His strong hands to hold us, to pick us up and hug us when we wobble and flop. We cannot grow beyond our dependence on Christ. We only grow by sinking our roots deeper in the grace and knowledge of Him.
I’m inspired by Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it he describes some of the exciting “bucket list” things a man did after receiving some bad news about his health. He also chose to love and forgive people more freely—speaking to them more tenderly. The song recommends that we live well, as if knowing our lives will end soon.
This song reminds us that our time is limited. It’s important for us to not put off for tomorrow what we can do today, because one day we’ll run out of tomorrows. This is particularly urgent for believers in Jesus, who believe that Jesus may return at any moment (perhaps in the very second you’re reading this sentence!). Jesus urges us to be ready, not living like the five “foolish” virgins who were caught unprepared when the bridegroom returned (Matthew 25:6–9).
But McGraw’s song doesn’t tell the whole story. We who love Jesus will never run out of tomorrows. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26). Our life in Him never ends.
So don’t live like you’re dying. Because you’re not. Rather, live like Jesus is coming. Because He is.
A classmate gave my family a registered collie that had become too old to breed puppies. We soon learned this beautiful dog had, sadly, spent much of her life inside a small pen. She would only walk in tight circles. She couldn’t fetch or run in a straight line. And even with a large yard in which to play, she thought she was fenced in.
The first Christians, many who were Jews, were used to being fenced in by the Mosaic law. Though the law was good and had been given by God to convict them of sin and lead them to Jesus (Galatians 3:19-25), it was time to live out their new faith based in God’s grace and the freedom of Christ. They hesitated. After all this time, were they really free?
We may have the same problem. Perhaps we grew up in churches with rigid rules that fenced us in. Or we were raised in permissive homes and are now desperate for the security of rules. Either way, it’s time to embrace our freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Jesus has freed us to obey Him out of love (John 14:21) and to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). An entire field of joy and love is open for those who realize “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
The night Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, his pockets contained the following: two spectacles, a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a handkerchief, a leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate bill, and eight newspaper clippings, including several that praised him and his policies.
I wonder what the Confederate money was doing in the President’s pocket, but I have little doubt about the glowing news stories. Everyone needs encouragement, even a great leader like Lincoln! Can you see him, in the moments before the fateful play, perhaps reading them to his wife?
Who do you know who needs encouragement? Everyone! Look around you. There isn’t one person in your line of vision who is as confident as they seem. We’re all one failure, snide comment, or bad hair day from self-doubt.
What if we all obeyed God’s command to “please our neighbors for their good, to build them up”? (v. 2). What if we determined only to speak “gracious words” that are “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones”? (Proverbs 16:24). What if we wrote these words down, so friends could reread and savor them? Then we’d all have notes in our pockets (or on our phones!). And we’d be more like Jesus, who “did not please himself” but lived for others (Romans 15:3).
Heroin addiction is poignantly tragic. Users build tolerance, so larger hits are required for the same high. Soon the dosage they seek is more than enough to kill them. When addicts hear someone has died from an exceptionally strong batch, their first thought may not be fear but “Where can I get that?”
C. S. Lewis warned of this downward spiral in Screwtape Letters, his imaginative look at a demon’s explanation of the art of temptation. Start with some pleasure—if possible one of God’s good pleasures—and offer it in a way God has forbidden. Once the person bites, give less of it while enticing him to want more. Provide “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure,” until finally we “get the man's soul and give him nothing in return.”
Proverbs 7 illustrates this devastating cycle with the temptation of adultery. Sex is God’s good gift, but when we seek its enjoyment outside of marriage we are “like an ox going to the slaughter” (v. 22). People stronger than us have destroyed themselves with illicit highs, so “pay attention” and “do not let your heart turn to her ways” (v. 25). Sin tastes sweet at first—that’s why it’s tempting—but it always ends in death (v. 27). Avoid the careless ruin and folly of sin. Resist the first bite. And call out for help.
As I stopped my car at a red light, I saw the same man standing beside the road again. He held a cardboard sign: Need money for food. Anything helps. I looked away and sighed. Was I the kind of person who ignored the needy?
Some people pretend to have needs but are actually con artists. Others have legitimate needs but face difficulties overcoming destructive habits. Social workers tell us it’s better to give money to the many aid ministries in our city. I swallowed hard and drove past. I felt badly, but I may have acted wisely.
God commands us to “warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). To do this well we must know who belongs in which category. If we warn a weak or disheartened person we may break her spirit; if we help an idle person we may encourage laziness. Consequently, we help best from up close, when we know the person well enough to know what he needs.
Has God burdened your heart to help someone? Great! Now the work begins. Don’t assume you know what that person needs. Ask her to share her story, and listen. Prayerfully give as seems wise, and not merely to feel better about yourself. When we truly aim “to do what is good for each other,” we will more readily “be patient with everyone,” even when they stumble (vv. 14–15).
My heart is full from attending the funeral of a faithful woman. Her life wasn’t spectacular. She wasn’t known widely outside her church, neighbors, and friends. But she loved Jesus, her seven children, and twenty-five grandchildren. She laughed easily, served generously, and could hit a softball a long way.
Ecclesiastes says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting” (7:2). “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” because there we learn what matters most (7:4). New York Times columnist David Brooks says there are two kinds of virtues: those that look good on a résumé and those you want said at your funeral. Sometimes these overlap, though often they seem to compete. When in doubt, always choose the eulogy virtues.
The woman in the casket didn’t have a résumé, but her children testified that “she rocked Proverbs 31” and its description of a godly woman. She inspired them to love Jesus and care for others. As Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), so they challenged us to imitate their mother’s life as she imitated Jesus.
What will be said at your funeral? What do you want said? It’s not too late to develop eulogy virtues. Rest in Jesus. His salvation frees us to live for what matters most.