At my new school near a large city, the guidance counselor took one look at me and placed me in the lowest performing English composition class. I’d arrived from my inner-city school with outstanding test scores, excellent grades, and even a principal’s award for my writing. The door to the “best” writing class in my new school was closed to me, however, when the counselor decided I wasn’t right or ready.
The church in ancient Philadelphia would’ve understood such arbitrary setbacks. A small and humble church, its city had suffered earthquakes in recent years that left lasting damage. Additionally, they faced satanic opposition (Revelation 3:9). Such a disregarded church had “little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (v. 8). Therefore, God placed before them “an open door that no one can shut” (v. 8). Indeed, “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (v. 7).
That’s true for our ministry efforts. Some doors don’t open. With my writing for God, however, He has indeed opened doors, allowing it to reach a global audience, regardless of one counselor’s closed attitudes. Closed doors won’t hinder you either. “I am the Door,” Jesus said (John 10:9
On her wedding day, Gwendolyn Stulgis wore the wedding dress of her dreams. Then she gave it away—to a stranger. Stulgis believed a dress deserved more than sitting in a closet collecting dust. Other brides agreed. Now scores of women have bonded on her social media site to donate and receive wedding dresses. As one giver said, “I hope this dress gets passed from bride to bride to bride, and it just gets worn out and is in tatters at the end of its life because of all the celebrating that’s done in it.”
The spirit of giving can feel like a celebration, indeed. As it is written, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24–25).
The apostle Paul taught this principle in the New Testament. As he said his goodbyes to the believers in Ephesus, he gave them a blessing (Acts 20:32) and reminded them of the importance of generosity. Paul pointed to his own work ethic as an example for them to follow. “In everything I did,” he said, “I showed you that by . . . hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (v. 35).
Being generous reflects God. “For God so loved the world that He gave” (John 3:16). Let’s follow His glorious example as He guides us.
The young pastor prayed every morning, asking God to use him that day to bless someone. Often, to his delight, such a situation arose. One day during a break at his second job, he sat in the sunshine with a coworker who asked him about Jesus. The pastor simply answered the other man’s questions. No rant. No arguing. The pastor commented that being guided by the Holy Spirit led him to have a casual talk that felt effective but loving. He made a new friend as well—someone hungry to learn more about God.
Letting the Holy Spirit lead us is the best way to tell others about Jesus. He told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
The fruit of the Spirit “is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Living under the Spirit’s control, that young pastor put into practice what Peter instructed: “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15.)
Even if we suffer for following Christ, our words show the world that His Spirit leads us. Then our walk will draw others to Him.
One summer night, the birds near our home suddenly erupted into chaotic cawing. The squawking intensified as the songbirds sent piercing calls from the trees. We finally realized why. As the sun set, a large hawk swooped from a treetop, sending the birds scattering in a screeching frenzy, sounding the alarm as they flew from danger.
In our lives, spiritual warnings can be heard throughout Scripture—cautions against false teachings, for example. We may doubt that’s what we’re hearing. Because of His love for us, however, our heavenly Father provides the clarity of Scripture to make such spiritual dangers plain to us.
Jesus taught, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He continued, “By their fruit you will recognize them. . . . Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Then He warned us, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (vv. 16–17; 20).
“The prudent see danger and take refuge,” Proverbs 22:3 reminds us, “but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Embedded in such warnings is God’s protective love, revealed in His words to us.
As the birds warned each other of physical danger, may we heed the Bible’s warnings to fly from spiritual danger and into His arms of refuge.
When American author O. Henry wrote his beloved 1905 Christmas story “The Gift of the Magi,” he was struggling to rebound from personal troubles. Still, he penned an inspiring story that highlights a beautiful, Christ-like character trait—sacrifice. In the story, an impoverished wife sells her beautiful long hair on Christmas Eve to buy a gold pocket watch chain for her husband. As she learns later, however, her husband had sold his pocket watch to buy a set of combs for her beautiful hair.
Their greatest gift to each other? Sacrifice. From each, the gesture showed great love.
In that way, the story represents the loving gifts the magi (wise men) gave to the Christ child after His holy birth (see Matthew 2:1,11). More than those gifts, however, the Holy Child would one day give His life for the whole world.
In our daily lives, believers in Jesus can highlight His great gift by offering to others the sacrifice of our time, treasures, and a temperament that all speak of love. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). There’s no better gift than sacrificing for others through Christ’s love.
Nine-year-old Dan Gill arrived with his best friend Archie at their classmate’s birthday party. When the mother of the birthday boy saw Archie, however, she refused him entry. “There aren’t enough chairs,” she insisted. Dan offered to sit on the floor to make room for his friend, who was Black, but the mother said no. Dejected, Dan left their presents with her and returned home with Archie, the sting of his friend’s rejection searing his heart.
Now, decades later, Dan is a schoolteacher who keeps one empty chair in his classroom. When students ask why, he explains it’s his reminder to “always have room in the classroom for anyone.”
A heart for all people can be seen in Jesus’ welcoming life: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This invitation may seem to contradict the “first to the Jew” scope of Jesus’ ministry (Romans 1:16). But the gift of salvation is for all people who place their faith in Jesus. “This is true for everyone who believes,” Paul wrote, “no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22
We rejoice then at Jesus’ invitation to all: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). For all seeking His rest, His open heart awaits.
At age twelve, Ibrahim arrived in Italy from West Africa, not knowing a word of Italian, struggling with a stutter, and forced to face anti-immigrant putdowns. None of that stopped the hard-working young man who, in his twenties, opened a pizza shop in Trento, Italy. His little business won over doubters to be listed as one of the top fifty pizzerias in the world.
His hope was then to help feed hungry children on Italian streets. So he launched a “pizza charity” by expanding a Neapolitan tradition—where customers buy an extra coffee (caffè sospeso) for those in need—to pizza (pizza sospesa). He also urges immigrant children to look past prejudice and not give up.
Such persistence recalls Paul’s lessons to the Galatians on continually doing good to all. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Paul continued, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (v. 10).
Ibrahim, an immigrant who faced prejudice and language barriers, created an opportunity to do good. Food became “a bridge” leading to tolerance and understanding. Inspired by such persistence, we too can look for opportunities to do good. God, then, gets the glory as He works through our steady trying.
“Go to the light!” That’s what my husband advised as we struggled to find our way out of a big city hospital on a recent Sunday afternoon. We’d visited a friend, and when we exited an elevator, we couldn’t find anyone during weekend hours to point us to the front doors—and the brilliant Colorado sunlight. Roaming around half-lit hallways, we finally encountered a man who saw our confusion. “These hallways all look the same,” he said. “But the exit’s this way.” With his directions, we found the exit doors—leading, indeed, to the bright sunlight.
Jesus invited confused, lost unbelievers to follow Him out of their spiritual darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In His light, we can see stumbling blocks, sin, and blind spots, allowing Him to remove such darkness from our lives as He shines His light into our hearts and on our path. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness, Jesus’ light brings us God’s presence, protection, and guidance.
As John explained, Jesus is “the true light” (John 1:9) and “the darkness has not overcome it” (v. 5). Instead of wandering through life, we can seek Him for direction as He lights the way.
Opening the blinds one winter morning, I faced a shocking sight. A wall of fog. “Freezing fog,” the weather forecaster called it. Rare for our location, this fog came with an even bigger surprise: a later forecast for blue skies and sunshine—“in one hour.” “Impossible,” I told my husband. “We can barely see one foot ahead.” But sure enough, in less than an hour, the fog had faded, the sky yielding to a sunny, clear blue.
Standing at a window, I pondered my level of trust when I can only see fog in life. I asked my husband, “Do I only trust God for what I can already see?”
When King Uzziah died and some corrupt rulers came to power in Judah, Isaiah asked a similar question. Who can we trust? God responded by giving Isaiah a vision so remarkable that it convinced the prophet that He can be trusted in the present for better days ahead. As Isaiah praised, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3). The prophet added, “Trust in the
When our minds are fixed on God, we can trust Him even during foggy and confusing times. We might not see it clearly now, but if we trust God, we can be assured His sparkling help is on the way.