A mouse with a shrill voice, Reepicheep is perhaps The Chronicles of Narnia’s most valiant character. He charged into battle swinging his tiny sword. He rejected fear as he prodded on the Dawn Treader toward the Island of Darkness. The secret to Reepicheep’s courage? He was deeply connected to his insatiable longing to get to Aslan’s country. “That is my heart’s desire,” he said. Reepicheep knew what he truly wanted, and this desire led him toward his king.
Bartimaeus, a blind man from Jericho, sat in his normal spot jingling his cup for coins when he heard Jesus and the crowd approaching. He yelled out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). The crowd tried to silence him, but Bartimaeus was undeterred.
“Jesus stopped,” Mark says (v. 49). In the midst of the throng, Jesus wanted to hear Bartimaeus. “What do you want?” Jesus asked (v. 51).
The answer seemed obvious; surely Jesus knew. But He seemed to believe there was power in allowing Bartimaeus to express his deep desire. “I want to see,” Bartimaeus said (v. 51). And Jesus sent Bartimaeus home seeing colors, beauty, and the faces of friends for the first time.
Not all desires are met immediately (and desires must be transformed), but what’s essential here is how Bartimaeus knew his desire and took it to Jesus. If we’ll pay attention, we’ll notice that our true desires and longings always lead us to Him.
When the Ethiopian police found her, a week after her abduction, three black-maned lions surrounded her, guarding her as though she was their own. Seven men had kidnapped the twelve-year-old girl, carried her into the woods and beaten her. Miraculously, however, a small pride of lions heard the girl’s cries, came running and chased off the attackers. “[The lions] stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” police Sgt. Wondimu told one reporter.
There are days when violence and evil, like that inflicted on this young girl, overpower us, leaving us absolutely alone and terrified, without any hope or protection. In ancient times, the people of Judah experienced this, overrun by ferocious armies and unable to imagine any possibility of escape. Fear consumed them. However, God always renewed His unrelenting presence with His people: “The
Whatever troubles overtake us, whatever evils, Jesus—the Lion of Judah—is with us. No matter how alone we feel, our strong Savior is with us. No matter what fears ravage us, our God assures us that He is by our side.
For nearly four decades, a man in India has worked to bring a scorched, sandy wasteland back to life. Seeing how erosion and changing ecosystems had destroyed the river island he loved, he began to plant one tree at a time, bamboo then cotton. Now, lush forests and abundant wildlife fill more than 1,300 acres. However, the man insists the rebirth was not something he made happen. Acknowledging the amazing way the natural world is designed, he marvels at how seeds are carried to fertile ground by the wind. Birds and animals participate in sowing them as well, and rivers also contribute in helping plants and trees flourish.
Creation works in ways we can’t comprehend or control. According to Jesus, this same principle applies to the kingdom of God. “This is what the kingdom of God is like,” Jesus said. “A man scatters seed on the ground . . . the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Matthew 4:26–27). God brings life and healing into the world as pure gift, without our maneuvering or manipulation. We do whatever God asks us of us, and then we watch life emerge. We know that everything flows from His grace.
It’s tempting to believe we’re responsible to change someone’s heart or ensure results for our faithful efforts. However, we need not live under that exhausting pressure. God makes all our seeds grow. It’s all grace.
I once heard about a student taking a class in preaching at a prominent seminary. The student, a young man who was a bit full of himself, delivered his sermon with eloquence and evident passion. He sat down self-satisfied, and the professor paused a moment before responding. “That was a powerful sermon,” he said. “It was well-organized and moving. The only problem is that God was not the subject of a single one of your sentences.”
The professor highlighted a problem all of us struggle with at times: We can talk as if we’re the primary actor (emphasizing what we do, what we say) when in truth God is the primary actor in life. We often profess that God is somehow generally “in charge,” but we act as if all the outcomes depend on us.
The Scriptures insist that God is the true subject of our lives, the true force. Even our necessary acts of faith are done “in the name of the
So the pressure’s off. We don’t need to fret, compare, work with compulsive energy or feed our many anxieties. God is in charge. We need only trust and follow His lead in obedience.
I stumbled upon footage from a British newsreel crew who filmed six-year-old Flannery O’Connor on her family farm in 1932. Flannery, who would go on to become an acclaimed US writer, caught the crew’s curiosity because she’d taught a chicken to walk backwards. Apart from the novelty of the feat, I thought this glimpse of history was a perfect metaphor. Flannery, due to both her literary sensibilities and her spiritual convictions, spent her thirty-nine years definitely walking backwards—thinking and writing in a counter-cultural way. Publishers and readers were entirely baffled by how her biblical themes ran counter to the religious views they expected.
A life that runs counter to the norm is inevitable for those who would truly imitate Jesus. Philippians tells us that Jesus, though His “very nature” was God, didn’t move in the predictable ways we would expect (2:6). He didn’t use His power “to his own advantage,” but “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (vv. 6–7). Christ, the Lord of creation, surrendered to death for the sake of love. He didn’t seize prestige but embraced humility. He didn’t grab power but relinquished control. Jesus, in essence, walked backwards—counter to the power-driven ways of the world.
Scripture tells us to do the same (v. 5). Like Jesus, we serve rather than dominate. We move toward humility rather than prominence. We give rather than take. In Jesus’ power, we walk backwards.
Painfully, the evil that has long been swept under the rug—sexual abuse of many women by men who had power over them—has come to light. Enduring vile headline after headline, my heart sank when I heard proof of abuse by two men I admired. The church has our own sordid scandals. These days are a reckoning.
King David faced his own reckoning. Samuel tells us that one afternoon, David “saw a woman bathing” (2 Samuel 11:2). And David wanted her. Though Bathsheba was the wife of one his loyal soldiers (Uriah), David took her anyway. When Bathsheba told David she was pregnant, he panicked. And in a despicable act of treachery, David arranged for Joab to have Uriah die on the battlefield.
There was no hiding David’s abuse of power against Bathsheba and Uriah. Here it is in full color, Samuel ensuring we see this wretchedness. We must deal with our evil.
Also, we must hear such stories because they caution us against the abuse of power in our times. This was David, “a man after God’s [own] heart” (Acts 13:22), but also a man who needed to be held accountable for his actions. May we also prayerfully hold leaders accountable for how they use or abuse power.
By God’s grace, redemption is possible. If we read further, we encounter David’s profound contrition (2 Samuel 12:13). Thankfully, hard hearts can still turn from death to life.
In the documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, author Berry spoke of how divorce describes the state of our world. We’re divorced from one another, from our history, from the land. Things that should be whole are split apart. When asked what we should do about this sad fact, Berry said, “We can’t put everything back together. We just take two things and put them together.” We take two things broken apart and make them one again.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus tells us (v. 9). To make peace is to bring shalom. And shalom refers to the world being set right. One theologian describes shalom as “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight. . . . [it’s] the way things ought to be.” Shalom is taking what’s broken and making it whole. As Jesus guides, may we strive to make things right. He calls us to be peacemakers, to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (vv. 13–14)
There are many ways to be peacemakers in the world, but with each may we engage brokenness rather than surrendering to it. In God’s power, let’s choose to not allow a friendship to die or let a struggling neighborhood languish or yield to apathy and isolation. Let’s look for the broken places, trusting God to give us the wisdom and skill to participate in making them whole again.
Giles Kelmanson, South African game ranger, described the incredible scene: two honey badgers battling a pride of six lions. Although outnumbered, the honey badgers refused to back down from ferocious predators ten times their size. The lions thought the kill would be simple, but video footage shows the badgers walking away with something like a swagger.
David and Goliath offer an even more improbable story. Young, inexperienced David confronted the fierce Philistine Goliath. Towering above his young combatant, Goliath possessed brute strength and unrivalled weaponry—bronze armor and a lethal, razor-edged javelin (vv. 5–6). David, a fledgling shepherd, carried only a slingshot when he arrived at the battlefield with bread and cheeses for his brothers (vv. 17–18).
Goliath challenged Israel to engage in battle, but no one was willing to fight. King Saul and “all the Israelites were . . . terrified” (v. 11). Imagine the shock when David stepped into the fray. What gave him courage none of Israel’s hardened warriors possessed? For most everyone, Goliath dominated their vision. David, however, saw God. “The Lord will deliver [Goliath] into my hands,” he insisted (v. 46). While everyone else believed Goliath dominated the story, he believed God loomed larger. And, with a single stone to the giant’s forehead, David’s faith proved true.
We’re tempted to believe that “Goliath” (our troubles) dominates the story. God is larger, however. He dominates the story of our lives.