There I am, sitting in the shopping mall food court, my body tense and my stomach knotted over looming work deadlines. As I unwrap my burger and take a bite, people rush around me, fretting over their own tasks. How limited we all are, I think to myself—limited in time, energy, and capacity.
I consider writing a new to-do list and prioritize the urgent tasks, but as I pull out a pen another thought enters my mind: a thought of One who is infinite and unlimited, who effortlessly accomplishes all that He desires.
This God, Isaiah says, can measure the oceans in the hollow of His hand and collect the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12). He names the stars of the heavens and directs their path (v. 26), knows the rulers of the world and oversees their careers (v. 23), considers islands mere specks of dust and the nations like drops in the sea (v. 15). “To whom will you compare me?” He asks (v. 25). “The
Stress and strain are never good for us, but on this day they deliver a powerful lesson. The unlimited God is not like me. He accomplishes everything He wishes. I finish my burger, and then pause once more. And silently worship.
In a popular film, an actor plays a success-driven sports agent whose marriage begins to crumble. Attempting to win his wife, Dorothy, back, he looks into her eyes and says, “You complete me.” It’s a heart-warming message that echoes a tale in Greek philosophy. According to that myth, each of us is a “half” that must find our “other half” to become whole.
The belief that a romantic partner “completes” us is now part of popular culture. But is it true? I talk to many married couples who still feel incomplete because they haven’t been able to have children, and others who’ve had kids but feel something else is missing. Ultimately, no human can fully complete us.
The apostle Paul gives another solution. “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:9–10 NLT). Jesus doesn’t just forgive us (vv. 11–12) and liberate us (vv. 14–15), He completes us by bringing the life of God into our lives (v. 13).
Marriage is good, but it can’t make us whole. Only Jesus can do that. Instead of expecting a person, career, or anything else to complete us, let’s accept God’s invitation to let His fullness fill our lives more and more.
The farmer climbed into his truck and began his morning inspection of the crops. On reaching the farthest edge of the property, his blood began to boil. Someone had used the farm’s seclusion to illegally dump their trash—again.
As he filled the truck with the bags of food scraps, the farmer found an envelope. On it was printed the offender’s address. Here was an opportunity too good to ignore. That night he drove to the offender’s house and filled his garden with not just the dumped trash but his own!
Revenge is sweet, some say, but is it right? In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men are hiding in a cave to escape a murderous King Saul. When Saul wanders into the same cave to relieve himself, David’s men see a too-good-to-ignore opportunity for David to get revenge (vv. 3–4). But David goes against this desire to get even. “The
As we or our loved ones face injustice, opportunities to take revenge on offenders may well come. Will we give in to these desires, as the farmer did, or go against them, like David? Will we choose righteousness over revenge?
Cuthbert is a much-loved figure in northern England. Responsible for evangelizing much of the area in the seventh-century, Cuthbert counseled monarchs, influenced state affairs, and after his death the city of Durham was built in his honor. But Cuthbert’s legacy is great in more ways than these.
After a plague ravaged the region, Cuthbert once toured affected towns offering solace. Readying to leave one village, he checked if there was anyone left to pray for. There was—a woman, clutching a child. She had already lost one son, and the child she held was nearing death too. Cuthbert took the fevered boy in his arms, prayed for him, and kissed his forehead. “Do not fear,” he told her, “for no one else of your household will die.” The boy reportedly lived.
Jesus once took a small boy into his arms to give a lesson on greatness, saying, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37). To “welcome” someone in Jewish culture meant to serve them, the way a host welcomes a guest. Since children were to serve, not be served by, adults, the idea must’ve been shocking. Jesus’s point? True greatness resides in serving the smallest and lowliest (9:35).
A counselor to monarchs. An influencer of history. A city built in his honor. But perhaps heaven records Cuthbert’s legacy more like this: A mother noticed. A forehead kissed. A humble life reflecting his Master.
In the film Amadeus, aging composer Antonio Salieri plays some of his music on the piano for a visiting priest. The embarrassed priest confesses he doesn’t recognize the tunes. “What about this one?” Salieri says, playing an instantly familiar melody. “I didn’t know you wrote that,” the priest says. “I didn’t,” Salieri replies. “That was Mozart!” As viewers discover, Mozart’s success has caused deep envy in Salieri—even leading him to play a part in Mozart’s death.
A song lies at the heart of another envy story. After David’s victory over Goliath, the Israelites heartily sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The comparison doesn’t sit well with King Saul. Envious of David’s success and afraid of losing his throne (vv. 8–9), Saul begins a prolonged pursuit of David, trying to take his life.
Like Salieri with music or Saul with power, we’re usually tempted to envy those with similar but greater gifts than we possess. And whether it’s picking fault with their work or belittling their success, we too can seek to damage our “rivals.”
Saul had been divinely chosen for his task (10:6–7, 24), a status that should’ve fostered security in him rather than envy. Since we each have unique callings too (Ephesians 2:10), maybe the best way to overcome envy is to quit comparing ourselves. Let’s celebrate each other’s successes instead.
Having tried for years to conceive, Richard and Susan were elated when Susan became pregnant. Her health problems, however, posed a risk to the baby, and so Richard lay awake each night praying for his wife and child. One night, Richard sensed he didn’t need to pray so hard, that God had promised to take care of things. But a week later Susan miscarried. Richard was devastated. He wondered, Had they lost the baby because he hadn’t prayed hard enough?
On first reading, we might think today’s parable suggests so. In the story, a neighbor (sometimes thought to represent God) only gets out of bed to help the friend because of the friend’s annoying persistence (Luke 11:5–8). Read this way, the parable suggests that God will give us what we need only if we badger Him. And if we don’t pray hard enough, maybe God won’t help us.
But biblical commentators like Klyne Snodgrass believe this misunderstands the parable—its real point being that if neighbors might help us for selfish reasons, how much more will our unselfish Father. We can therefore ask confidently (vv. 9–10), knowing that God is greater than flawed human beings (vv. 11–13). He isn’t the neighbor in the parable, but the opposite of him.
“I don’t know why you lost your baby,” I told Richard, “but I know it wasn’t because you didn’t pray ‘hard’ enough. God isn’t like that.”
I once spoke at a secular conference for childless couples. Heartbroken over their infertility, many attendees despaired at their future. Having walked the childless path too, I tried to encourage them. “You can have a meaningful identity without becoming parents,” I said. “I believe you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and there’s new purpose for you to find.”
A woman later approached me in tears. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ve felt worthless being childless and needed to hear that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.” I asked the woman if she was a Christian. “I walked away from God years ago,” she said. “But I need a relationship with Him again.”
Times like this remind me how profound the gospel is. Some identities, like “mother” and “father,” are hard for some to attain. Others, like those based on a career, can be lost through unemployment. But through Jesus we become God’s “dearly loved children”—an identity that can never be stolen (Ephesians 5:1). And then we can “walk in the way of love”—a life purpose that transcends any role or employment status (v. 2).
All human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and those who follow Jesus become children of God (John 1:12–13). Once in despair, that woman left in hope—about to find an identity and purpose bigger than this world can give.
Inside my parents’ old photo album is a picture of a young boy. He has a round face, freckles, and straight light-blond hair. He loves cartoons, hates avocado, and owns just one record, by Abba. Also inside that album are pictures of a teenager. His face is long, not round; his hair is wavy, not straight. He has no freckles, likes avocado, watches movies rather than cartoons, and would never admit to owning an Abba record! The boy and the teenager are little alike. According to science they have different skin, teeth, blood, and bones. And yet they are both me. This paradox has baffled philosophers. Since we change throughout our lives, who is the real us?
The Scriptures provide the answer. From the moment God began knitting us in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14), we’ve been growing into our unique design. While we can’t yet imagine what we’ll finally become, we know that if we’re children of God we will ultimately be like Jesus (1 John 3:2)—our body with His nature, our personality but His character, all our gifts glistening, all our sins gone.
Until the day Jesus returns, we’re being drawn towards this future self. By His work, step by step, we can reflect His image ever more clearly (2 Corinthians 3:18). We aren’t yet who we’re meant to be, but as we become like Him, we become our true selves.
In his book Human Universals, anthropologist Donald Brown lists more than four hundred behaviors that he considers common across humanity. He includes such things as toys, jokes, dances, and proverbs, wariness of snakes, and tying things with string! Likewise, he believes all cultures have concepts of right and wrong, where generosity is praised, promises valued, and things like meanness and murder understood to be wrong. We all have a sense of conscience, wherever we’re from.
The apostle Paul made a similar point many centuries ago. While God gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments to clarify right from wrong, Paul noted that since gentiles could do right by obeying their conscience, God’s laws were evidently written on their hearts (Romans 2:14–15). But that didn’t mean people always did what was right. The gentiles rebelled against their conscience (1:32), the Jews broke the Law (2:17–24), leaving both guilty. But through faith in Jesus, God removes the death penalty from all our rule-breaking (3:23–26; 6:23).
Since God created all humans with a sense of right and wrong, each of us will likely feel some guilt over a bad thing we’ve done or a good thing we failed to do. When we confess those sins, God wipes away the guilt like a whiteboard wiped clean. All we have to do is ask Him—whoever we are, wherever we’re from.