“Hey, Poh Fang!” A church friend texted. “For this month’s care group meeting, let’s get everyone to do what James 5:16 says. Let’s create a safe environment of trust and confidentiality, so we can share an area of struggle in our life and pray for each other.”
For a moment, I wasn’t sure how to reply. While our small-group members have known each other for years, we’d never really openly shared all our hurts and struggles with one another. Afterall, it’s scary to be vulnerable.
But the truth is, we’re all sinners and we all struggle. We all need Jesus. Authentic conversations about God's amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging us to keep trusting in Him. With Jesus, we can stop pretending to have trouble free lives.
So I replied, “Yes! Let’s do that!” Initially, it was awkward. But as one person opened up and shared, another soon followed. Though a few kept silent, there was understanding. No one was pressured. We ended the time by doing what the second part of James 5:16 says, “Pray for each other.”
That day I experienced the beauty of fellowship with believers in Jesus. Because of our common faith in Christ, we can be vulnerable with each other and depend on Him and others to help us in our weaknesses and struggles.
It was just a fun game at youth group, but it held a lesson for us: rather than switching neighbors, learn to love the ones you have. Everyone is seated in a large circle, except for one person who stands in the middle of the circle. The standing person asks someone sitting down, “Do you love your neighbor?” The seated person can answer the question in two ways: yes or no. He gets to decide if he would like to swap his neighbor with someone else.
Don’t we wish we could choose our “neighbors” in real life too? Especially when we have a colleague whom we can’t get along with or a next-door neighbor who loves to mow the lawn at odd hours. More often than not, however, we have to learn to live with our difficult neighbors.
When the Israelites moved into the promised land, God gave them important instructions on how to live as people who belonged to Him. They are told to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), which includes not spreading gossip or rumors, not taking advantage of our neighbors, and confronting people directly if we have something against them (vv. 9–18).
While it’s difficult to love everyone, it’s possible to treat our others in loving ways as Jesus works in and through us. God will supply the wisdom and ability to do so as we seek to live out our identity as His people.
Hansle Parchment was in a predicament. He caught the bus to the wrong place for his semifinal in the Tokyo Olympics and was left stranded with little hope of getting to the stadium on time. But thankfully he met Trijana Stojkovic, a volunteer helping out at the games. She gave him some money to take a taxi. Parchment made it to the semifinal on time and eventually clinched the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdle. Later, he went back to find Stojkovic and thanked her for her kindness.
In Luke 17 we read of the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus for healing him (vv. 15–16). Jesus had entered a village where He met ten lepers. All of them asked Jesus for healing, and all of them experienced His grace and power. Ten were happy that they’d been healed, but only one returned to express his gratitude. He “came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (vv. 15–16).
Every day, we experience God’s blessings in multiple ways. It could be as dramatic as an answered prayer to an extended time of suffering or receiving timely help from a stranger. Sometimes, His blessings can come in ordinary ways too, such as good weather to accomplish an outdoor task. Like the Samaritan leper, let’s remember to thank God for His kindness toward us.
While waiting to enter the university, twenty-year-old Shin Yi decided to commit three months of her break to serving in a youth mission organization. It seemed like an odd time to do this, given the Covid-19 restrictions that prevented face-to-face meetings. But Shin Yi soon found a way. “We couldn’t meet up with students on the streets, in shopping malls, or fast-food centers like we usually did,” she shared. “But we continued to keep in touch with the Christian students via Zoom to pray for one another and with the non-believers via phone calls.”
Shin Yi did what the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to do: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Paul warned that people would find teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear and not what they needed to hear (vv. 3–4). Yet Timothy was called to take courage and “be prepared in season and out of season.” He was to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (v. 2).
Though not all of us are called to be evangelists or preachers, each one of us can play a part in sharing our faith with those around us. Unbelievers are perishing without Christ. Believers need strengthening and encouragement. With God’s help, let’s proclaim His good news whenever and wherever we can.
I used to dread Mondays. Sometimes, when I got off the train to head to a previous job, I'd sit at the station for a while, trying to delay reaching the building, if only for a few minutes. My heart would beat fast as I worried over meeting the deadlines and managing the moods of a temperamental boss.
For some of us, it can be especially difficult to start another dreary workweek. We may be feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated in our job. King Solomon described the toil of work when he wrote: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain” (Ecclesiastes 2:22–23).
While the wise king didn’t give us a panacea for making work less stressful or more rewarding, he did offer us a change in perspective. No matter how difficult our work is, he encourages us to “find satisfaction” in it with God’s help (v. 24). Perhaps it will come as the Holy Spirit enables us to display Christlike character. Or as we hear from someone who’s been blessed through our service. Or as we remember the wisdom God provided to deal with a difficult situation. Though our work may be difficult, our faithful God is there with us. His presence and power can light up even gloomy days. With His help, we can be thankful for Monday.
While reading on the train, Meiling was busy highlighting sentences and jotting down notes in the margins of her book. But a conversation between a mother and child seated nearby stopped her. The mom was correcting her child for doodling in her library book. Meiling quickly put her pen away, not wanting the toddler to ignore her mother’s words by following Meiling’s example. She knew that the child wouldn’t understand the difference between damaging a loaned book and making notes in one you owned.
Meiling’s actions reminded me of the apostle Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 10:23–24: “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
The believers in Jesus in the young church in Corinth saw their freedom in Christ as an opportunity to pursue personal interests. But Paul wrote that they should view it as an opportunity to benefit and build up others. He taught them that true freedom isn’t the right to do as a one pleases, but the liberty to do as they should for God.
We follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we use our freedom to choose building others up instead of serving ourselves.
Croissants, dumplings, pork curry, and all sorts of scrumptious food await those who find and enter the Narrow Door Cafe. Located in the Taiwanese city of Tainan, this cafe is literally a hole in the wall. Its entrance is barely 40 centimeters wide (less than16 inches)—just enough for the average person to squeeze his way through! Yet, despite the challenge, this unique cafe has attracted large crowds.
Will this be true of the narrow door described in Luke 13:22–30? Someone asked Jesus, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23). In reply, Jesus challenged the person to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” to God’s kingdom (v. 24). He was essentially asking, “Will the saved include you?” Jesus used this analogy to urge the Jews not to be presumptuous. Many of them believed they would be included in God’s kingdom because they were Abraham’s descendants or because they kept the law. But Jesus challenged them to respond to Him before “the owner of the house . . . closes the door” (v. 25).
Neither our family background nor our deeds can make us right with God. Only faith in Jesus can save us from sin and death (Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–7). The door is narrow, but it’ wide open to all who will put their faith in Jesus. He’s inviting us today to seize the opportunity to enter through the narrow door to His kingdom.
A Christian school for autistic children in India received a big donation from a corporation. After checking that there were no strings attached, they accepted the money. But later, the corporation requested to be represented on the school board. The school director returned the money. She refused to allow the values of the school to be compromised. She said, “It’s more important to do God’s work in God’s way.”
There are many reasons to decline help, and this is one of them. In the Bible we see another. When the exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem, King Cyrus commissioned them to rebuild the temple (Ezra 4). When their neighbors said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God” (v. 2), the leaders of Israel declined. They concluded that by accepting the offer of help, the integrity of the temple rebuilding project might have been compromised and idolatry might have crept into their community since their neighbors also worshiped idols.
With the help of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of wise believers in Jesus, we can develop discernment. We can also be confident to say no to friendly offers that may hide subtle spiritual dangers because God’s work done in His way will never lack His provision.
Free funerals for the living. That’s the service offered by an establishment in South Korea. Since it opened in 2012, more than 25,000 people—from teenagers to retirees—have participated in mass “living funeral” services, hoping to improve their lives by considering their deaths. Officials say “the simulated death ceremonies are meant to give the participant a truthful sense of their lives, inspire gratitude, and aid in forgiveness and reconnection among family and friends.”
These words echo the wisdom given by the teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. “Death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death reminds us of the brevity of life and that we only have a certain amount of time to live and love well. It loosens our grip on some of God’s good gifts—such as money, relationships, and pleasure—and frees us to enjoy them in the here and now as we store up “treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
As we remember that death may come knocking anytime, perhaps it’ll compel us to not postpone that visit with our parents, delay our decision to serve God in a particular way, or compromise our time with our children for our work. With God’s help, we can learn to live wisely.