On her college volleyball team, my granddaughter learned a winning principle. When the ball came her way, no matter what, she could “better the ball.” She could make a play that left her teammates in a better situation—without throwing tantrums, blaming, or making excuses. Always make the situation better.
That was Daniel’s response when he and three Hebrew friends were taken into captivity by Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar. Although they were given pagan names and ordered to three years of “training” in the enemy’s palace, Daniel didn’t rage. Instead, he asked permission not to defile himself in God’s sight by eating the king’s rich food and wine. As this intriguing Bible story shows, after consuming nothing but vegetables and water for ten days (Daniel 1:12), Daniel and his friends “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (v. 15).
Another time, Nebuchadnezzar threatened to kill Daniel and all palace wise men if they couldn’t repeat the king’s disturbing dream and interpret it. Again, Daniel didn’t panic, but sought mercy “from the God of heaven,” and the mystery was revealed to him in a vision (2:18–19). As Daniel declared of God, “wisdom and power are his” (v. 20). Throughout his captivity, Daniel sought God’s best despite the conflicts he faced. In our own troubles, may we follow that example, making the situation better by taking it to God.
The prophet Habakkuk arrived at this conclusion centuries earlier. After complaining to God about evils aimed at the people of Judah, Habakkuk came to see that praising God leads to joy—not in what God does, but in who He is. Thus, even in a national or world crisis, God is still great. As the prophet declared:
“Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the
“I will be joyful in God my Savior,” he added. As C. S. Lewis also realized, “The whole world rings with praise.” Habakkuk, likewise, surrendered to praising God always, finding rich joy in the One who “marches on forever” (v. 6).
My grandchildren are running around my backyard. Playing games? No, pulling weeds. “Pulling them up by the roots!” the youngest says, showing me a hefty prize. Her delight as we tackled weeds that day was how much we enjoyed plucking the weedy roots—clearing away each pesky menace. Before the joy, however, came the choice to go after them.
Intentional weeding is also the first step in removing personal sin. Thus, David asked the Lord: “Search me, God, and know my heart . . . . See if there is any offensive way in me (Psalm 139:23–24).
What a wise approach, to go after our sin by asking God to show it to us. He above all knows everything about us. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me,” wrote the psalmist. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar” (vv. 1–2).
Such knowledge, David added, “is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (v. 6). Even before a sin takes root, therefore, the Lord can alert us to the danger. He knows our “landscape.” So, when a sneaky sinful attitude tries to take root, He is first to know and point it out.
“You hem me in behind and before,” wrote David. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” (vv. 5–6). May we closely follow our Savior to higher ground!
Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer, was devastated when she visited her mother and saw her decline from dementia. Her mom no longer recognized her and barely spoke. After several monthly visits, Nancy had an idea. She started singing Christmas carols. Her mother’s eyes lit up at the musical sounds, and she began singing too—for twenty minutes! Then Nancy’s mom laughed, joking they were “The Gustafson Family Singers!” The dramatic turnaround suggested the power of music, as some therapists conclude, to evoke lost memories. Singing “old favorites” has also been shown to boost mood, reduce falls, lessen visits to the emergency room, and decrease the need for sedative drugs.
More research is underway on a music-memory link. Yet as the Bible reveals, the joy that comes from singing is a gift from God—and it’s real. “How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1).
Throughout the Scriptures, in fact, God’s people are urged to lift their voices in songs of praise to Him. “Sing to the
At the phone store, the young pastor steeled himself for bad news. His smart phone, accidentally dropped during our Bible class, was a total loss, right? Actually, no. The store clerk recovered all of the pastor’s data, including his Bible videos and photos. She also recovered “every photo I’d ever deleted,” he said. The store also “replaced my broken phone with a brand new phone.” As he said, “I recovered all I had lost and more.”
David once led his own recovery mission after an attack by the vicious Amalekites. Spurned by Philistine rulers, David and his army discovered the Amalekites had raided and burned down their town of Ziklag—taking captive “the women and everyone else in it,” including all their wives and children (1 Samuel 30:2). “So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (v. 4). The soldiers were so bitter with their leader David that they talked of stoning him (v. 6).
But David “found strength in the
Twenty long years passed before British journalist John McCarthy—a five-year hostage during Lebanon’s grueling civil war—met the man who negotiated his release. When McCarthy finally met U.N. envoy Giandomenico Picco, McCarthy simply said, “Thank you for my freedom!” His heartfelt words carried great weight because Picco had risked his own life during dangerous negotiations to secure freedom for McCarthy and others.
We as believers can relate to such hard-won freedom. Jesus gave up His life—enduring death on a Roman cross—to secure spiritual freedom for all people, including each of us. Now as His followers, b we know “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle Paul boldly declared (Galatians 5:1).
The gospel of John also teaches of freedom in Christ, noting, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
But free in what ways? In Christ, we experience freedom not only from sin and its hold on us but also from guilt, shame, worry, Satan’s lies, superstitions, false teaching, and eternal death. No longer hostages, we have freedom to show love to enemies, walk in kindness, live with hope, and love our neighbors. As we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can forgive as we have been forgiven.
For all of this, let us thank God today. Then let us love so others will know the power of His freedom too.
The winter night was cold when someone threw a large stone through a Jewish child’s bedroom window. A star of David had been displayed in the window, along with a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. In the child’s town of Billings, Montana, thousands of people—many of them believers in Jesus—responded to the hateful act with compassion. Choosing to identify with the hurt and fear of their Jewish neighbors, they pasted pictures of menorahs in their own windows.
As believers in Jesus, we too receive great compassion. Our Savior humbled Himself to live among us (John 1:14), identifying with us. He, “being in very nature God . . . made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” on our behalf (Philippians 2:6–7). Then, feeling as we feel and weeping as we weep, He died on a cross, sacrificing His live to save ours.
Nothing we struggle with is beyond our Savior’s concern. If someone “throws rocks” at our lives, He comforts us. If life brings disappointments, He walks with us through despair. “Though the
On New Year’s Eve, when high-powered fireworks detonate across cities and towns worldwide, the noise is loud on purpose. By their nature, say manufacturers, flashy fireworks are meant to split the atmosphere, literally. “Repeater” blasts can sound the loudest, especially when exploded near the ground.
Troubles, too, can boom through our hearts, minds, and homes. The “fireworks” of life—family struggles, relationship problems, work challenges, financial strain, even church division—can feel like explosions, rattling our emotional atmosphere.
Yet we know the One who lifts us over this uproar. Christ Himself “is our peace,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14. When we abide in His presence, His peace is greater than any disruption, quieting the noise of any worry, hurt, or disunity.
This would have been powerful assurance to Jews and Gentiles alike. They had once lived “without hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). Now they faced threats of persecution and internal threats of division. But in Christ, they’d been brought near to Him, and consequently to each other, by His blood. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14).
As we start a New Year, with threats of unrest and division ever rumbling on the horizon, let’s turn from life’s noisy trials to seek our ever present Peace. He quiets the booms, healing us.