God Knows Us
I recently saw a photograph of Michelangelo’s sculpture Moses, in which a closeup view showed a small bulging muscle on Moses’ right arm. This muscle is the extensor digiti minimi, and the contraction only appears when someone lifts their pinky. Michelangelo, known as a master of intricate details, paid close attention to the human bodies he sculpted, adding intimate features most everyone else would miss. Michelangelo knew the human body in ways few other sculptors have, but the details he carved into granite were his attempts to reveal something deeper—the soul, the interior life of human beings. And of course, there, Michelangelo always fell short.
Only God knows the deepest realities of the human heart. Whatever we see of one another, no matter how attentive or insightful it might be, is only a shadow of the truth. But God sees deeper than the shadows. “You know me,
No matter our struggles or what’s going on in our hearts, God sees us and truly knows us.
Blessing in the Tears
I received an email from a young man in England, a son who explained that his father (only sixty-three) was in the hospital in critical condition, hanging on to life. Though we’d never met, his dad’s work and mine shared many intersections. The son, trying to cheer his father, asked me to send a video message of encouragement and prayer. Deeply moved, I recorded a short message and a prayer for healing. I was told that his dad watched the video and gave a hearty thumbs-up. Sadly, a couple days later, I received another email telling me that he had died. He held his wife’s hand as he took his final breath.
My heart broke. Such love, such devastation. The family lost a husband and father far too soon. Yet it’s surprising to hear Jesus insist that it’s precisely these grieving ones who are blessed: “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:4). Jesus isn’t saying suffering and sorrow are good, but rather that God’s mercy and kindness pour over those who need it most. Those overcome by grief due to death or even their own sinfulness are most in need of God’s attention and consolation—and Jesus promises us “they will be comforted” (v.4).
God steps toward us, His loved children (v. 9). He blesses us in our tears.
Love like Blazing Fire
Poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake enjoyed a forty-five-year marriage with his wife Catherine. From their wedding day until his death in 1827, they worked side-by-side. Catherine added color to William’s sketches, and their devotion endured years of poverty and other challenges. Even in his final weeks as his health failed, Blake kept at his art, and his final sketch was his wife’s face. Four years later, Catherine died clutching one of her husband’s pencils in her hand.
The Blakes’ vibrant love offers a reflection of the love discovered in the Song of Songs. And while the Song’s description of love certainly has implications for marriage, early believers in Jesus believed it also points to Jesus’ unquenchable love for all His followers. The Song describes a love “as strong as death,” which is a remarkable metaphor since death is as final and unescapable a reality as humans will ever know (8:6). This strong love “burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6) And unlike fires we’re familiar with, these flames can’t be doused, not even by a deluge. “Many waters cannot quench love,” the Song insists (v. 7).
Who among us doesn’t desire true love. The Song reminds us that whenever we encounter genuine love, God is the ultimate source. And in Jesus, each of us can know a profound and undying love—one that burns like a blazing fire.
At the age of 103, a woman named Man Kaur competed as India’s oldest female athlete during the 2019 World Masters Athletic Championship in Poland. Remarkably, Kaur won gold in four events (javelin, shot put, 60-meter dash, and 200-meter run). But most astounding: she ran faster than she ran in the 2017 championship. A great-grandmother running into her second century, Kaur showed how to finish strong.
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a younger disciple, of how he’d entered his concluding years. “The time for my departure is near,” Paul wrote (2 Timothy 4:6). Reflecting on his life, he confidently believed he was finishing strong. “I have fought the good fight,” Paul said. “I have finished the race” (v. 7). He wasn’t confident because he’d calculated his impressive accomplishments or surveyed his vast impact (though they were immense). Rather, he knew he’d “kept the faith” (v.7). The apostle had remained loyal to Jesus. Through sorrows and joys, he’d followed the One who’d rescued him from ruin. And he knew that Jesus stood ready with a “crown of righteousness,” the joyful finale to his faithful life (v. 8).
Paul insists that this crown isn’t for an elite few but for “all who have longed for [Christ’s] appearing” (v.8). As we head into a new year, let’s remember that Jesus stands eager to crown all who’ve loved Him and may we live to finish strong.
Trusting Our Future to God
In 2010, Laszlo Hanyecz made the first purchase with bitcoin (a digital currency), paying 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas. In 2021, the value of those bitcoins would have been roughly $685 million. Back before the value skyrocketed, he kept paying for pizzas with coins, spending 100,000 bitcoins total. If he’d kept those bitcoins, their value would’ve made him a billionaire sixty-eight times over and placed him on the Forbes’ “richest people in the world” list. If only he’d known what was coming.
Of course, Hanyecz couldn’t possibly have known. None of us could have. Despite our attempts to comprehend and control the future, Ecclesiastes rings true: “No one knows what is coming” (10:14). Some of us delude ourselves into thinking we know more than we do, or worse, that we possess some special insight about another person’s life or future. But as Ecclesiastes pointedly asks: “who can tell someone else what will happen after them?” (v. 14). No one.
Scripture contrasts a wise and a foolish person, and one of the many distinctions between the two is humility about the future (Proverbs 27:1). A wise person recognizes that only God truly knows what’s over the horizon as they make decisions. But foolish people presume knowledge that isn’t theirs. May we have wisdom, trusting our future to the only One who actually knows it.
Envisioning a Different Future
The three hundred middle and high school students of the small town of Neodesha, Kansas filed into a surprise school assembly. They then sat in disbelief upon hearing that a married couple with ties to their town committed to pay college tuition for every Neodesha student for the next twenty-five years. The students were stunned, overjoyed, and tearful.
Neodesha had been hard hit economically, which meant many families worried about how to cover college expenses. The gift was a generational game-changer, and the donors hope it will immediately impact current families but also incentivize other families to move to Neodesha. They envision their generosity igniting new jobs, new vitality—an entirely different future for the town and its neighbors.
God desired His people to be generous by not only tending to their own acute needs but also by envisioning a new future for their overwhelmed, struggling neighbors. God’s directions were clear: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them” (Leviticus 25:35). The generosity wasn’t only about meeting basic physical needs of food and shelter but also about considering what their future life together as a community would require. “Help them,” God said, “so they can continue to live among you” (v. 35).
The deepest forms of giving reimagine a different future. God’s immense, creative generosity encourages us toward that day when we all live together in wholeness and plenty.
Compassion Over Bitterness
When the World Trade Center towers fell on September 11, 2001, Greg Rodriguez was one of the victims who died in the wreckage. As his mother Phyllis and his father grieved, they also carefully considered their response to such a horrific attack. In 2002, Phyllis met Aicha el-Wafe, the mother of one of the men accused of helping the terrorists. Phyllis said she “approached her and opened my arms. We embraced and cried. . . . For Aicha and me, there was an immediate bonding. . . . We both suffered on account of our sons.”
Phyllis met Aicha amid shared pain and sorrow. Phyllis believed that fury over her son’s death, appropriate as it was, could not heal her anguish. Listening to Aicha’s family story, Phyllis felt compassion, resisting the temptation to view them merely as enemies. She desired justice, but believed we must release the temptation to seek revenge that often grips us when we’ve been wronged.
The apostle Paul shared this conviction, admonishing us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger . . . along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). As we relinquish these destructive powers, God’s Spirit fills us with new perspective. “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” Paul says (v. 32). It’s possible to work for wrongs to be made right while also refusing rageful vengeance. May the Spirit help us show compassion that overcomes bitterness.
Discerning Right Paths
One writer referred to Brazilian skateboarder Felipe Gustavo as “one of the most legendary skateboarders on the planet.” No one would have believed this would be Gustavo’s future when he was sixteen. Gustavo’s dad believed his son needed to pursue his dream of skating professionally, but they didn’t have the money. So his dad sold their car, and took his son to the renowned Tampa Am skating competition in Florida. No one had heard of Gustavo . . . until he won. And the victory catapulted him into an amazing career.
Gustavo’s dad had the capacity to see his son’s heart and passion. “When I become a father,” Gustavo said, “I just want to be like five percent of what my dad was for me.”
Proverbs describes the opportunity parents have to help their children discern the unique way God has crafted their heart, energy, and personality—and then to direct and encourage them toward the path that reflects who God made them to be. “Start children off on the way they should go,” the writer says, “and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (22:6).
We may not possess vast resources or profound knowledge. With God’s wisdom (vv. 17–21) and our attentive love, however, we can offer our kids and other children within our sphere of influence an immense gift. We can help them trust in God and discern the paths they can follow for a lifetime (3:5–6).
The Whole House
Wearing his striped jumpsuit, James walked across the steamy jail gym and climbed into the portable pool where he was baptized by the prison chaplain. James’ joy multiplied, however, when he heard that his daughter Brittany—also an inmate—had been baptized that same day . . . in the same water. When they realized what had happened, even the staff got emotional. “There wasn’t a dry eye,” the chaplain said. In and out of jail for years, Brittany and her dad both wanted God’s forgiveness. And together, God gave them new life.
Scripture describes another prison encounter—this time with a jailer—where Jesus’ love transformed an entire family. After a “violent earthquake” shook the prison and “the prion doors flew open,” Paul and Silas didn’t run but remained in their cell (Acts 16:26). The jailer, overcome with gratitude that they didn’t flee, took them to his house and eventually asked that life-changing question: “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30)
“Believe,” they answered, “you and your household” (v. 31). The response reveals God desire to pour out mercy on not only individuals but also entire families. Encountering God’s love, they all came “to believe in God—[the jailer] and his whole household” (v.34). Though we’re often anxious for the salvation of those we love, we can trust that God loves them even more than we do. He desires to renew all of us, our whole house.