Before I met Jesus, I’d been wounded so deeply that I avoided close relationships in fear of being hurt more. My mom remained my closest contact, until I married Alan. Seven years later and on the verge of divorce, I toted our kindergartener, Xavier, into a church service. I sat near the exit door, afraid to trust but desperate for help.
Thankfully, believers reached out, prayed for our family, and taught me how to nurture a relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading. Over time, the love of Christ and His followers changed me.
Two years after that first church service, Alan, Xavier, and I asked to be baptized. Sometime later, during one of our weekly conversations, my mom said, “You’re different. Tell me more about Jesus.” A few months passed and she too accepted Christ as her Savior.
Jesus transforms lives . . . lives like Saul’s, one of the most feared persecutors of the church until his encounter with Christ (Acts 9:1–5). Others helped Saul learn more about Jesus (vv. 6–9). His drastic transformation added to the credibility of his Spirit-empowered teaching (vv. 20–22).
Our first personal encounter with Jesus may not be as dramatic as Saul’s. Our life transformation may not be as quick or drastic. Still, as people notice how Christ’s love is changing us over time, we’ll have opportunities to tell others what He did for us.
When my cousin invited me to join him to fish for crawdads (crayfish), I couldn’t help but be excited. I grinned when he handed me a plastic pail. “No lid?”
“You won’t need one,” he said, picking up the fishing rods and the small bag of chicken chunks we’d use for bait.
Later, as I watched the small crustaceans climbing over one another in a futile attempt to escape the almost-full bucket, I realized why we wouldn’t need a lid. Whenever one crawdad reached the rim, the others would pull it back down.
The plight of the crawdads reminds me how destructive it is to be selfishly concerned about our own gain instead of the benefit of a whole community. Paul understood the need for uplifting, interdependent relationships when he wrote to the believers in Thessalonica. He urged them to “warn those who are idle and disruptive” and to “encourage the disheartened, help the weak,” and “be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Commending their caring community (v. 11), Paul spurred them toward even more loving and peaceful relationships (vv. 13–15). By striving to create a culture of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion, their relationships with God and others would be strengthened (vv. 15, 23).
The church can grow and witness for Christ through this kind of loving unity. When believers honor God, committing to lift others up instead of pulling them down with words or actions, we and our communities thrive.
When I served as my mom’s live-in caregiver at a cancer center, I got to know Lori, another caregiver who lived down the hallway from us with her husband, Frank. I would chat, laugh, vent, cry, and pray with Lori in the shared living areas. We enjoyed supporting each other as we cared for our loved ones.
One day, I missed the free shuttle that took residents to buy groceries. Lori offered to drive me to the store later that evening. With grateful tears, I accepted her offer. “Thanks for being you,” I said. I truly appreciated her for who she was as a person, not just for what she did for me as a friend.
Psalm 100 demonstrates an appreciation of God for who He is, not simply for all He does. The psalmist invites “all the earth” (v. 1) to “worship the L
God will always be the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and our intimately loving Father. He deserves our genuine joy-filled gratitude.
Even though confined to his bed, 92-year-old Morrie Boogaart continues to knit hats for the homeless in Michigan. By February 2017, he had reportedly made over 8,000 hats in fifteen years. Instead of focusing on his health or limitations, Mr. Boogaart looks beyond himself and does what he can to place the needs of others above his own. He declared that his work made him feel good and gave him a purpose. “I’m going to do this until I go home to the Lord,” he said. Though most recipients of his hats won’t know his story or how much he sacrificed to create each love cap, Morrie’s simple act of persevering love is now inspiring people across the world.
We too can look past our struggles, place others before ourselves, and imitate our loving and compassionate Savior—Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1–5). God in the flesh—the King of Kings—took on the “very nature of a servant” in genuine humility (vv. 6–7). Giving His life—the ultimate sacrifice—He took our place on the cross (v. 8). Jesus gave everything for us . . . all for the glory of God the Father (vv. 9–11).
As Christ followers, it’s our privilege to show love and demonstrate concern for others through acts of kindness. Even if we don’t think we have much to offer, we can adopt the attitude of servanthood. We can actively seek opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives by simply doing what we can do.
The years of weariness caused by chronic pain and frustrations with my limited mobility had finally caught up with me. In my discontent, I became demanding and ungrateful. I began complaining about my husband’s caregiving skills. I griped about the way he cleaned the house. Even though he’s the best cook I know, I fussed about the lack of variety in our meals. When he finally shared that my grumbling hurt his feelings, I was resentful. He had no idea what I was going through. Eventually, God helped me see my wrongs, and I asked my husband and the Lord for forgiveness.
Longing for different circumstances can lead to complaining, and even a form of relationship-damaging self-centeredness. The Israelites were familiar with this dilemma. It seems they were never satisfied and always griping about God’s provision (Exodus 17:1–3). Even though the Lord cared for His people in the wilderness by sending them “bread from heaven” (16:4), they began craving other food (Numbers 11:4). Instead of rejoicing over the daily miracles of God’s faithful and loving care, the Israelites wanted something more, something better, something different, or even something they used to have (vv. 4–9). They took out their frustrations on Moses (vv. 10–14).
Trusting God’s goodness and faithfulness can help us get a good grip on gratitude. Today we can thank Him for the countless ways He cares for us.
For years, feelings of unworthiness and shame over my less-than-godly past had an adverse impact on every aspect of my life. What if others discovered the extent of my blemished reputation? Though God helped me muster up courage to invite a ministry leader to lunch, I strived to seem perfect. I scrubbed my house spotless, whipped up a three-course meal, and donned my best jeans and blouse.
I rushed to turn off the front-yard sprinklers. Twisting the leaking nozzle, I screamed when a gush of water drenched me. With towel-dried hair and smeared makeup, I changed into dry sweats and a T-shirt . . . just in time to hear the doorbell. Frustrated, I confessed my morning’s antics and motives. My friend shared her battles with fear and insecurity stemming from guilt over past failings. After we prayed, she welcomed me to her team of God’s imperfect servants.
The apostle Paul accepted his new life in Christ, refusing to deny his past or let it stop him from serving the Lord (1 Timothy 1:12–14). Because Paul knew Jesus’s work on the cross saved and changed him—the worst of sinners—he praised God and encouraged others to honor and obey Him (vv. 15–17).
When we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, we’re freed from our past. Flawed but fiercely loved, we have no reason to be ashamed of our real faces as we serve others with our God-given gifts.
I admire people who record prayer requests in journals tattered from daily handling, those who keep track of every prayer and praise and then faithfully update their lists. I’m inspired by those who gather with others to pray and whose kneeling wears out the carpet at their bedsides. For years, I tried to copy their styles, to simulate a perfect prayer life, and to imitate the eloquence of the so-much-more-articulate-than-me folks. I strived to unravel what I thought was a mystery, as I longed to learn the right way to pray.
Eventually, I learned that our Lord simply desires prayer that begins and ends with humility (Matthew 6:5). He invites us into an intimate exchange through which He promises to listen (v. 6). He never requires fancy or memorized words or phrases (v. 7). He assures us that prayer is a gift, an opportunity to honor His majesty (vv. 9–10), to display our confidence in His provision (v. 11), and to affirm our security in His forgiveness and guidance (vv. 12–13).
God assures us He hears and cares about every single spoken and unspoken prayer, as well as the prayers that slip down our cheeks as silent tears. As we place our trust in God and His perfect love for us, we can be sure praying with a humble heart that’s surrendered to and dependent on Him is always the right way to pray.
In 2011, the National Aeronautics and Space Association celebrated thirty years of space research. In those three decades, shuttles carried over 355 people into space and helped construct the International Space Station. After retiring five shuttles, NASA has now shifted its focus to deep-space exploration.
The human race has invested massive amounts of time and money, with some astronauts even sacrificing their lives, to study the immensity of the universe. Yet the evidence of God’s majesty stretches far beyond what we can measure.
When we consider the Sculptor and Sustainer of the universe who knows each star by name (Isaiah 40:26), we can understand why the psalmist David praises His greatness (Psalm 8:1). The Lord’s fingerprints are on “the moon and the stars, which [He] set in place” (v. 3). The Maker of the heavens and the earth reigns above all, yet He remains near all His beloved children, caring for each intimately and personally (v. 4). In love, God gives us great power, responsibility, and the privilege to care for and explore the world He’s entrusted to us (vv. 5–8).
As we study our star-spattered night skies, our Creator invites us to seek Him with passion and persistence. He hears every prayer and song of praise flowing over our lips.
After reviewing all God had already done throughout our church’s history, leaders presented the congregation with a proposal for a new gym to help us better serve our community. The leadership team announced they’d be the first to sign pledge notes to fund the construction. I initially prayed with a heart soured by selfishness, not wanting to offer more money than we had already committed to give. Still, my husband and I agreed to pray for the ongoing project. While considering all God continued providing for us, we eventually decided on a monthly offering. The combined gifts of our church family paid for the entire building.
Grateful for the many ways God’s used that gym for community events, since we celebrated opening its doors for ministry, I’m reminded of another generous giver−King David. Though the Lord didn’t choose him to build His temple, David invested all his resources to the project (1 Chronicles 29:1–5). The leaders under him and the people they served gave generously, too (vv. 6–9). The king acknowledged all they’d contributed had first been given to them by God—the Creator, Sustainer, and Owner of everything (vv. 10–16).
When we recognize God owns it all, we can commit to grateful, generous, and faithful giving for the benefit of others. And we can trust the Lord will provide—and may even use the generosity of others to help us when we’re in need.