When nine-year-old Willie was abducted from his front yard in 2014, he sang his favorite gospel song Every Praise over and over again. During the three-hour ordeal, Willie ignored the kidnapper’s repeated orders to keep silent as they drove around. Eventually, the kidnapper let Willie out of the car unharmed. Later, Willie described the encounter, saying that while he felt his fear give way to faith, the abductor seemed agitated by the song.
Willie’s response to his dire situation is reminiscent of the experience shared by Paul and Silas. After being flogged and thrown into jail, they reacted by “praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25–26).
Upon witnessing this awesome demonstration of power, the jailer believed in the God of Paul and Silas, and had his entire household baptized along with him (vv. 27–34). Through the avenue of praise, both physical and spiritual chains were broken that night.
We may not always experience a visibly dramatic rescue like Paul and Silas, or like Willie. But we know that God responds to the praises of His people! When He moves, chains fall apart.
Desmond Doss was drafted into World War II as a non-combatant. Though his religious beliefs prevented him from carrying a gun, Doss ably served as a combat medic. In one battle, he withstood intense and repeated enemy fire to pull seventy-five soldiers in his unit to safety after they had been injured. His story is told in the documentary, The Conscientious Objector and dramatized in the film Hacksaw Ridge.
A roll call of the heroes of Christian faith includes such courageous characters as Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, and Paul. Yet there are some unsung heroes like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who risked their standing with the Jewish leaders to take Jesus’s crucified body and give Him a decent burial (John 19:40–42). This was a bold move from a fearful, secret disciple of Jesus and another, Nicodemus, who had previously dared to visit Jesus only at night (vv. 38–39). Even more impressive is that they took their faith stand before Jesus rose victorious from the grave. Why?
Perhaps the manner of Jesus’s death and the events that immediately followed (Matthew 27:50–54) crystallized the fledgling faith of these fearful followers. Maybe they learned to focus on who God is rather than what man could do to them. Whatever the inspiration, may we follow their example and exhibit courage to take risks of faith in our God—for others today.
Ellen Langer’s 1975 study titled The Illusion of Control examined the level of influence we exert over life’s events. She found that we overestimate our degree of control in most situations. The study also demonstrated how reality nearly always shatters our illusion of control.
Langer’s conclusions are supported by experiments carried out by others since the study was published. However, James had identified the phenomenon long before she named it. In James 4, the apostle wrote, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13–14).
Then James provides a cure for the delusion, pointing to the One who is in absolute control: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15). In these few verses, James summarized both a key failing of the human condition and its antidote.
May we, like James, understand that our fate does not rest in our own hands. And may we rejoice because God holds all things in His capable hands. We can trust His plans!
When Xavier McCoury put on the glasses Aunt Celena sent for his tenth birthday, he burst into tears. Born colorblind, Xavier had only ever seen the world in shades of gray, white, and black. With his new EnChroma glasses, however, Xavier saw color for the first time. His euphoria at witnessing the beauty around him made his family feel like they’d beheld a miracle.
Witnessing God’s colorfully radiant brilliance also evoked a powerful reaction in the apostle John (Revelation 1:17). After encountering the full glory of the resurrected Christ, John glimpsed “a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like emerald encircled the throne. From the throne came flashes of lightning” (Revelation 4:2–5).
In a different time, Ezekiel had a similar vision, seeing “what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli,” with a figure above the throne who “looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire” (Ezekiel 1:26–27). This magnificent figure was surrounded with rainbow-like radiance (v. 28).
One day we will meet the resurrected Christ face to face. These visions give us just a tiny hint of the magnificence that awaits us then. As we celebrate the beauty of God’s creation here and now, may we live in anticipation of the glory yet to be revealed.
In February 1497, a Monk named Girolama Savonarola started a fire. Leading up to this, he and his followers spent several months collecting items that they thought might entice people to sin or neglect their religious duties—including artwork, cosmetics, instruments, and dresses. On the appointed day, thousands of vanity items were gathered at a public square in Florence, Italy, and set on fire. The event has come to be known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.
Savonarola might have found inspiration for his extreme actions in some shocking statements from the Sermon on the Mount. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away,” said Jesus. “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29–30). But if we interpret Jesus’s words literally, we miss the point of the message. The entire sermon is a treatise on going deeper than the surface, to focus on the state of our hearts rather than blaming our behavior on external distractions and temptations.
The Bonfire of the Vanities made a great show of destroying belongings and works of art, but it is unlikely that the hearts of those involved were changed in the process. Only God can change a heart. That’s why the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Life’s vanities don’t matter. It’s our heart that counts.
Former Newsboys lead vocalist and songwriter Peter Furler describes the performance of the band’s praise song "He Reigns." The song paints a vivid picture of believers from every tribe and nation coming together to worship God in unity. Furler observed that whenever the Newsboys sang it he could sense the moving of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of believers.
Furler’s description of his experiences with He Reigns would likely have resonated with the crowds who converged upon Jerusalem at Pentecost. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), things began to happen beyond anyone’s experience. As a result, Jews representing every nation under heaven came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken to proclaim God’s wonders (vv. 5–6, 11). Peter explained to the crowd that this was in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in when God said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (v. 17).
This all-inclusive display of God’s awesome power made the crowd receptive to Peter’s declaration of the gospel message, leading to three thousand converts that day alone (v. 41). Following this spectacular kickoff, these new believers then returned to their corner of the world, taking the good news with them.
The good news still resounds today—God’s message of hope for all people. As we praise God together, His Spirit moves among us, bringing people of every nation together in wonderful unity. He reigns!
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery The Clocks features antagonists who commit a series of murders. Although their initial plot targeted a single victim, they found it necessary to take more lives in order to cover up the original crime. When confronted by Poirot, one of the conspirators confessed, lamenting, “It was only supposed to be the one murder.”
Like the schemers in the story, the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s day formed a conspiracy of their own. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38–44), they called an emergency meeting and plotted to take His life (11:45–53). But they didn’t stop there. After Jesus rose from the dead, the religious leaders spread lies about what happened at the grave (Matthew 28:12–15). Then they began a campaign to silence Jesus’s followers (Acts 7:57–8:3). What started as a religious plot against one man for the “greater good” of the nation became a web of lies, deceit, and multiple casualties.
Sin plunges us down a road that often has no end in sight, but God always provides a way of escape. When Caiaphas the high priest said, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50) he didn’t understand the profound truth of his words. The chief priests’ and Pharisees’ conspiracy would help bring about the redemption of mankind.
Jesus saves us from sin’s vicious grip. Have you received the freedom He offers?
Before she followed in the footsteps of John the Baptist by living in the desert, Mary of Egypt (c.
The disciple Peter denied Jesus three times. Only hours before the denials, Peter had declared his willingness to die for Jesus (Luke 22:33), so the realization of his failure was a crushing blow (Luke 22:61–62). In his despair, Peter went out fishing (John 21:1–3). But Jesus came to Peter in that place, and for each denial gave him a chance to declare his love. Then, with each declaration, Jesus charged Peter to care for His people (John 21:15–17). The result of this stunning display of grace was Peter playing a key role in building the church and ultimately giving his life for Christ.
A biography of any one of us could begin with a litany of our failures and defeats. But God’s grace always allows for a different ending. By His grace, we can all make the transition from sinner to saint.
Using acoustic astronomy, scientists can observe and listen to the sounds and pulses of space. They’ve found that stars don’t orbit in silence in the mysterious night sky, but rather generate music. Like humpback whale sounds, the resonance of stars exists at wavelengths or frequencies that may not be heard by the human ear. Yet, the music of stars and whales and other creatures combine to create a symphony that proclaims the greatness of God.
Psalm 19:1–4 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands; day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul reveals that in Jesus “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:15). In response, the natural world’s heights and depths sing to its Maker. May we join creation and sing out the greatness of the One who “with the breadth of his hand marked off the [vast] heavens” (Isaiah 40:12).