In 2021, an engineer with the ambition to shoot an arrow farther than anyone in history took aim at the record of 2,028 feet. While lying on his back on a salt flat, he drew back the bowstring of his personally designed foot bow and prepared to launch the projectile to what he hoped would be a new record distance of more than a mile (5,280 feet). Taking a deep breath, he let the arrow fly. It didn’t travel a mile. In fact, it traveled less than a foot—launching into his foot and causing considerable damage. Ouch!
Sometimes we can figuratively shoot ourselves in the foot with misguided ambition. James and John knew what it meant to ambitiously seek something good, but for the wrong reasons. They asked Jesus to let “one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Jesus had told the disciples they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelves tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28), so it’s easy to see why they made this request. The problem? They were selfishly seeking their own lofty position and power in Christ’s glory. Jesus told them that their ambition was misplaced (Mark 10:38) and that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v. 43).
As we aim to do good and great things for Christ, may we seek His wisdom and direction—humbly serving others as He did so well (v. 45).
In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?” Swenson says we need some quiet, fertile “land” in life where we can rest in God and meet with Him.
Does that resonate? Seeking open spaces is something Moses lived out well. Leading a nation of “stubborn and rebellious” people (Exodus 33:5
We too need to build margin into our lives, some wide and open spaces spent in rest and in God’s presence. Spending time with Him will help us make better decisions—creating healthier margins and boundaries in our life so we have the bandwidth available to love Him and others well.
Let’s seek God in open spaces today.
My friend’s eyes revealed what I was feeling—fear! We two teens had behaved poorly and were now cowering before the camp director. The man, who knew our dads well, shared lovingly but pointedly that our fathers would be greatly disappointed. We wanted to crawl under the table—feeling the weight of personal responsibility for our offense.
God gave Zephaniah a message for the people of Judah that contained potent words about personal responsibility for sin (Zephaniah 1:1, 6–7). After describing the judgments He would bring against Judah’s foes (ch. 2), He turned His eyes on His guilty, squirming people (ch. 3). “What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem” God proclaimed (3:1
He'd seen the cold hearts of His people—their spiritual apathy, social injustice, and ugly greed—and He was bringing loving discipline. And it didn’t matter if the individuals were “leaders,” “judges,” “prophets”—everyone was guilty before Him (vv. 3–4).
The apostle Paul wrote the following to believers in Jesus who persisted in sin, “You are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. . . . [God] will judge everyone according to what they have done” (Romans 2:5–6 NLT). So, in Jesus’ power, let’s live in a way that honors our holy, loving Father and leads to no remorse.
The look on the young teen’s face reflected angst and shame. Heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics her success as a figure skater was unparalleled—a string of championships had made her a lock to win a gold medal. But then a test result revealed a banned substance in her system. With the immense weight of expectations and condemnation pressing down on her, she fell multiple times during her free-skate program and didn’t stand on the victors’ platform—no medal. She’d displayed artistic freedom and creativity on the ice prior to the scandal, but now an accusation of a broken rule bound her to crushed dreams.
From the early days of humanity, God has revealed the importance of obedience as we exercise our free will. Disobedience led to devasting effects for Adam, Eve, and all of us as sin brought brokenness and death to our world (Genesis 3:6–19). It didn’t have to be that way. God had told the two, “You are free to eat from any tree” but one (2:16–17). Thinking their “eyes [would] be opened, and [they would] be like God,” they ate of the banned “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (3:5–7). Sin, shame, and death followed.
God graciously provides freedom and so many good things for us to enjoy (John 10:10). In love, He also calls us to obey Him for our good. May He help us choose obedience and find life full of joy and free of shame.
The crime was shocking, and the man who committed it was sentenced to life in prison. In the years that followed, the man—in solitary confinement—began a process of mental and spiritual healing. It led to repentance and a restored relationship with Jesus. These days he’s been allowed limited interactions with other inmates. And, by God’s grace, through his witness some fellow-prisoners have received Christ as Savior—finding forgiveness in Him.
Moses, though now recognized as a great man of faith, also committed a shocking crime. After he witnessed “an Egyptian beating a Hebrew,” he looked “this way and that” and “killed the Egyptian” (Exodus 2:11–12). Despite this sin, God in His grace wasn’t done with His imperfect servant. Later, He chose Moses to free His people from their oppression (3:10). In Romans 5:14, we read, “Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.” But in the following verses Paul states that “God’s grace” makes it possible for us, regardless of our past sins, to be changed and made right with Him (vv. 15–16).
We might think that what we’ve done disqualifies us from knowing God’s forgiveness and being used for His honor. But because of His grace, in Jesus we can be changed and set free to help others be changed for eternity.
José, a young believer in Jesus, was visiting his brother’s church. As he entered the sanctuary prior to the service, his brother’s face fell when he saw him. José’s tattoos, covering both arms, were visible since he was wearing a T-shirt. His brother told him to go home and put on a long-sleeved shirt, for many of José’s tattoos reflected the ways of his past. José suddenly felt dirty. But another man overheard the brothers’ interaction and brought José to the pastor, telling him what had happened. The pastor smiled and unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a large tattoo on his chest—something from his own past. He assured José that he didn’t need to cover his arms because God had made him pure from the inside out.
David experienced the joy of being made pure by God. After confessing his sin to Him, the king wrote, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!” (Psalm 32:1 nlt). He could now “shout for joy” with others “whose hearts [were] pure!” (v. 11 nlt). The apostle Paul later quoted Psalm 32:1–2 in Romans 4:7–8, a passage declaring that faith in Jesus leads to salvation and a pure standing before Him (see Romans 4:23–25).
Our purity in Jesus is much more than skin deep, for He knows and purifies our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 John 1:9). May we rejoice in His purifying work today.
The Brooklyn Bridge was considered “the eighth wonder of the world” upon its completion in 1883. But a single, slender wire strung from one bridge tower to the other was essential for the structure to come to fruition. Additional wires were added to the first until a massive cable, along with three others, was woven together. When finished, each cable—composed of more than five thousand galvanized wires—helped support the longest suspension bridge in its day. What started as something small turned into a huge part of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Jesus’ life began in a small way—a baby born in a feeding trough in a tiny town (Luke 2:7). The prophet Micah prophesied His humble birth, writing, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2; see also Matthew 2:6). A small start, but this Ruler and Shepherd would see His fame and mission “reach to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4).
Jesus was born in a small place in humility, and His life on earth ended as “he humbled himself” and died on “a criminal’s cross” (Philippians 2:8). But by His immense sacrifice He bridged the gap between us and God—providing salvation for all who believe. This season, may you receive God’s great gift in Jesus by faith. And if you do believe, may you humbly praise Him anew for all He’s done for you.
Nokia became the world’s best-selling mobile phone company in 1998 and saw profits rise to nearly four billion dollars in 1999. But by 2011, sales were diminishing and soon the failing phone brand was acquired by Microsoft. One factor in Nokia’s mobile division failure was a fear-based work culture that led to disastrous decisions. Managers were afraid to tell the truth about the Nokia phone’s inferior operating system and other design problems for fear of being fired.
King Ahaz of Judah and his people were fearful—“shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). They knew that the kings of Israel and Aram (Syria) had allied, and their combined armies were marching to Judah to take it over (vv. 5–6). Although God used Isaiah to encourage Ahaz by telling him his enemies’ hostile plans would “not happen” (v. 7), the foolish leader fearfully chose to ally with Assyria and submit to the superpower’s king (2 Kings 16:7–8). He didn’t trust in God, who declared, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).
The writer of Hebrews helps us consider what it looks like to stand firm in faith today: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23). May we press on and not “shrink back” (v. 39) as the Holy Spirit empowers us to trust in Jesus.
Ever had a close encounter with a rattlesnake? If so, you might have noticed that the sound of the rattle seemed to get more intense as you moved nearer to the viper. Research reported in 2021 in Current Biology reveals that the venomous reptiles do increase their rattling rate when they think a threat is approaching. This “high-frequency mode” can cause us to think they’re closer than they are. As one researcher put it, “The misinterpretation of distance by the listener . . . creates a distance safety margin.”
People can sometimes use increasing volume with harsh words that push others away during a conflict—exhibiting anger and resorting to shouting. The writer of Proverbs shares some wise advice for times like these: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). He goes on to say that “soothing” and “wise” words can be “a tree of life” and a source of “knowledge” (vv. 4, 7).
Jesus provided the ultimate reasons for gently appealing to those with whom we enter into conflict: extending love that reveals us to be His children (Matthew 5:43–45) and seeking reconciliation—“[winning] them over” (18:15). Instead of raising our voice or using unkind words during conflicts, may we show civility, wisdom, and love to others as God guides us by His Spirit.