After twenty-two years together, I sometimes wonder how my marriage to Merryn works. I’m a writer, Merryn is a statistician; I work with words, she works with numbers. I want beauty, she wants function. We come from different worlds.
Merryn arrives to appointments early, I’m occasionally late. I try new things on the menu, she orders the same. After twenty minutes at an art gallery I’m just getting started, while Merryn is already in the cafe downstairs wondering how much longer I’ll be. We give each other many opportunities to learn patience!
We do have things in common—a shared sense of humor, a love of travel, and a common faith that helps us pray through options and compromise. With this shared base, our differences even work to our advantage. Merryn has helped me learn to relax, while I’ve helped her grow in discipline. Working with our differences has made us better people.
Paul uses marriage as a metaphor for the church (Ephesians 5:21–33), and with good reason. Like marriage, church brings very different people together, requiring them to develop humility and patience and to “[bear] with one another in love” (4:2). And, as in marriage, a shared base of faith and mutual service helps a church become unified and mature (vv. 11–13).
Differences in relationships can cause great frustration—in the church and in marriage. But managed well, they can work to our advantage, helping us become Christlike.
The sea squirt is a strange creature. Found attached to rocks and shells, it looks like a soft plastic tube waving with the current. Drawing its nutrients from the passing water, it lives a passive life far removed from its once active youth.
The sea squirt starts life as a tadpole with a primitive spinal cord and brain that helps it find food and avoid harm. As a juvenile it spends its days exploring the ocean, but something happens when it reaches adulthood. Settling on its rock, it stops exploring and growing. In a macabre twist, it digests its own brain.
Spineless, thoughtless, flowing passively with the current. The apostle Peter encourages us not to follow the sea squirt’s fate. Since maturity for us means taking on God’s nature (2 Peter 1:4), you and I are called to grow—grow mentally in our knowledge of Christ (3:18); spiritually in traits like goodness, perseverance, and self-control (1:5–7); and practically by exploring new ways to love, offer hospitality, and serve others through our gifts (1 Peter 4:7–11). Such growth, Peter says, will stop us living “ineffective and unproductive” lives (2 Peter 1:8).
This calling to grow is as vital for the 70-year-old as it is for the teenager. God’s nature is as vast as the ocean. We’ve barely swum a few feet. Explore His unending character, take new spiritual adventures. Study, serve, take risks. Grow.
I once heard a businessman describe his years in college as a time when he often felt “helpless and hopeless” from bouts of depression. Sadly, he never talked to a doctor about these feelings, but instead started making more drastic plans—ordering a book on suicide from his local library, and setting a date to take his life.
God cares for the helpless and hopeless. We see this in His treatment of biblical characters during their own dark times. When Jonah wanted to die, God engaged him in tender conversation (Jonah 4:3–10). When Elijah asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4), God provided bread and water to refresh him (vv. 5–9), spoke gently to him (vv. 11–13), and helped him see he wasn’t as alone as he thought (v. 18). God approaches the downhearted with tender, practical help.
The library notified the student when his book on suicide was ready to collect. But in a mix up, the note went to his parents’ address instead. When his mother called him, distraught, he realized the devastation his suicide would bring. Without that address mix up, he says, he wouldn’t be here today.
I don’t believe that student was saved by luck or chance. Whether it’s bread and water when we need it, or a timely wrong address, when mysterious intervention saves our lives, it’s divine tenderness we’ve encountered.
Researchers tell us there’s a link between generosity and joy: those who give their money and time to others are happier than those who don’t. This has led one psychologist to conclude, “Let’s stop thinking about giving as a moral obligation, and start thinking of it as a source of pleasure.”
While giving can make us happy, I question whether happiness should be the goal of our giving. If we’re only generous to people or causes that make us feel good, what about the more difficult or mundane needs requiring our support?
Scripture links generosity with joy too, but on a different basis. After giving his own wealth toward building the temple, King David invited the Israelites to also donate (1 Chronicles 29:1–5). The people responded generously, giving gold, silver and precious stones joyously (vv. 6–8). But notice what their joy was over: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the
As missionaries know, it can be easier to raise funds for evangelism than for administration because Christians like the feeling of funding frontline work. Let’s be generous toward other needs as well. After all, Jesus freely gave Himself to meet our needs (2 Corinthians 8:9).
I’m often given the privilege of leading spiritual retreats. Getting away for a few days to pray and reflect can be deeply enriching, and during the program I sometimes ask participants to do an exercise: “Imagine your life is over and your obituary is published in the paper. What would you like it to say?” Some attendees change their life’s priorities as a result, aiming to finish their lives well.
Second Timothy 4 contains the last known written words of the apostle Paul. Though probably only in his sixties, and though having faced death before, he senses his life is nearly over (2 Timothy 4:6). There will be no more mission trips now or writing letters to his churches. He looks back over his life and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). While he hasn’t been perfect (1 Timothy 1:15–16), Paul assesses his life on how true he’s stayed to God and the gospel. Tradition suggests he was martyred soon after.
Contemplating our final days has a way of clarifying what matters now. So what would you like your obituary to say? Paul’s words can be a good model to follow. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Because, in the end, what will matter is that we’ve stayed true to God and His ways as He provides what we need to live, fight life’s spiritual battles, and finish well.
Australia’s regent honeyeater bird is in trouble—it’s losing its song. Though once an abundant species, just three hundred birds now remain; and with so few others to learn from, the males are forgetting their unique song and failing to attract mates.
Thankfully, conservationists have a plan to rescue the honeyeaters—sing to them. Or more precisely, play them recordings of other honeyeaters singing so they can relearn their heart song. As the males pick up the tune and attract females again, it’s hoped the species will flourish once more.
The prophet Zephaniah addressed a people in trouble. With so much corruption among them, he announced that God’s judgment was coming (Zephaniah 3:1–8). When this later came to pass through capture and exile, the people too lost their song (Psalm 137:4). But Zephaniah foresaw a time beyond judgment when God would come to this decimated people, forgive their sins, and sing to them: “He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). As a result, the heart song of the people would be restored (v. 14).
Whether through our own disobedience or the trials of life, we too can lose our heart song of joy. But a Voice is singing over us songs of forgiveness and love. Let’s listen to His melody and sing along.
In a widely shared video, an elegant elderly woman sits in a wheelchair. Once a famed ballet dancer, Marta González Saldaña now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. But something magical happens when Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is played to her. As the music builds, her frail hands slowly rise, and as the first trumpets blast she starts performing from her chair. Though her mind and body are perishing, her talent is still there.
Reflecting on that video, my thoughts went to Paul’s teaching on resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Likening our bodies to a seed that is buried before it sprouts into a plant, he says that though our bodies may perish through age or illness, may be a source of dishonor, and may be wracked with weakness, the bodies of believers will be raised imperishable, full of glory and power (vv. 42–44). Just as there is an organic link between the seed and the plant, we will be “us” after our resurrection, our personalities and talents intact, but we will flourish like never before.
When the haunting melody of Swan Lake began to play, Marta at first looked downcast, perhaps mindful of what she once was and could no longer do. But then a man reached over and held her hand. And so it will be for us. Trumpets will blast (v. 52), a hand will reach out to us, and we will rise to dance like never before.
It’s a quiet riverside park on a Saturday afternoon. Joggers pass by, fishing rods whirl, seagulls fight over fish and chip wrappers, and my wife and I sit watching the couple. They are dark-skinned, maybe in their late 40s. She sits gazing into his eyes while he, without a hint of self-consciousness, sings to her a love song in his own tongue, carried on the breeze for us all to hear.
This delightful act got me thinking about the book of Zephaniah. At first you might wonder why. In Zephaniah’s day God’s people had become corrupt by bowing to false gods (1:4–5), and Israel’s prophets and priests were now arrogant and profane (3:4). For much of the book, Zephaniah declares God’s coming judgment on not just Israel, but all the nations of the earth (3:8).
Yet Zephaniah foresees something else. Out of that dark day will emerge a people who wholeheartedly love God (vv. 9–13). To these people God will be like a bridegroom who delights in His beloved: “In his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (v. 17)
Creator, Father, Warrior, Judge. Scripture uses many titles for God. But how many of us see God as a Singer with a love song for us on His lips?
The dormouse’s nose twitched. Something tasty was nearby. Sure enough, the scent led to a birdfeeder full of delicious seed. The dormouse climbed down the chain to the feeder, slipped through the door, and ate and ate all night. Only in the morning did he realize the trouble he was in. Birds now pecked at him through the feeder’s door, but having gorged on the seed, he was now twice his size and unable to escape.
Doors can lead us to wonderful places—or dangerous ones. A door features prominently in Solomon’s advice on avoiding sexual temptation in Proverbs 5. While sexual sin may be enticing, he says, trouble awaits if it’s pursued (5:3–6). Best to stay far from it, for if you walk through that door you’ll be trapped, your honor lost, your wealth pecked away by strangers (vv. 7–11). Solomon counsels us to enjoy the intimacy of our own spouse instead (vv. 15–20). His advice can apply to sin more broadly too (vv. 21–23). Whether it’s the temptation to overeat, overspend, or something else, God can help us to avoid the door that leads to entrapment.
The dormouse must’ve been happy when the homeowner found him in her garden birdfeeder and freed him. Thankfully, God’s hand is ready to free us when we’re trapped too. But let’s call on His strength to avoid the door of entrapment in the first place.