It doesn’t take much to notice that getting “inked” is very popular these days. Some tattoos are so small that one barely notices them. Others—from athletes to actors to everyday people—have opted to cover much of their bodies with multi-colored inks, words and designs. The trend seems like it’s here to stay, a trend that netted $3 billion in revenue in 2014—and an additional $66 million for tattoo removal.
Regardless of how you may feel about tattoos, Isaiah 44 speaks metaphorically about people writing something on their hands: “The L
Those who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ join can confidently say of themselves, “The Lord’s!” We are His people, His sheep, His offspring, His inheritance, His dwelling. These are the things we cling to in the varied seasons of life. While there may be no external mark or brand or tattoo, we can take heart that we have the witness of God’s Spirit in our hearts that we belong to Him (see Romans 8:16–17).
My friend was adopted by a missionary couple from Michigan and grew up in Ghana. After his family moved back to Michigan, he began college but had to drop out. Later, he signed on with the military, which eventually helped him pay for college and took him all over the world. Through it all, God was at work, preparing him for a special role. Today, he writes and edits Christian literature that ministers to an international audience.
His wife also has an interesting story. She failed her chemistry exams during her first year of college due to the strong medication she had to take for epilepsy. After some careful deliberation, she switched from studying science to studying American Sign Language, which had a more manageable workload. Reflecting on that experience, she says, “God was redirecting my life for a greater purpose.” Today, she is making His life-changing Word accessible to the hearing-impaired.
Do you sometimes wonder where God is leading you? Psalm 139:16 acknowledges God’s sovereign hand in our lives: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” We don’t know how God will use the circumstances of our life, but we can rest in the knowledge that God knows everything about us and He is directing our footsteps. Though His sovereign hand may seem hidden, He’s never absent.
Not long ago I was working on a construction project at my son’s home three hours away. The job took days longer than expected, and each morning I prayed we would finish by sunset. But every evening there was more to be done.
I wondered why. Could there be a reason for the delay? An answer came the next morning. I was picking up a tool when my phone rang and a stranger’s voice spoke urgently: “Your daughter was injured in an accident. You need to come immediately.”
She lived near my son, so it took just fourteen minutes to reach her. If I had been home, I would have been three hours away. I followed the ambulance to the hospital and comforted her before surgery. As I sat holding her hand I realized if my project hadn’t been delayed, I would not have been there.
Our moments belong to God. This was the experience of a woman whose son God had resurrected through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:18–37). She left the country because of famine and returned years later to beg the king for her land. At precisely that moment the king was conversing with the prophet’s servant Gehazi. “Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored” her son, the woman walked in (8:5). Her request was granted.
We don’t know what even the next second brings, but God is graciously able to use any situation for good. May God give us grace to walk with Him expectantly into His appointments for us today.
When Sue’s parents divorced when she was young, the legal tussle over her custody and other matters resulted in her being sent to a children’s home for a while. Bullied by bigger kids, she felt lonely and abandoned. Her mother visited only once a month; and she hardly saw her father. It was only years later, however, that her mother told her that while the home’s rules prevented her from visiting more often, she had stood at the fence every single day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her daughter. “Sometimes,” she said, “I would just watch you playing in the garden, just to check if you were okay.”
When Sue told this story, it gave me a glimpse of God’s love. Sometimes we may feel abandoned and alone in our struggles. How comforting it is know that God is in fact watching over us all the time! (Psalm 33:18). Even though we can’t see Him, He is there. Like a loving parent, His eyes and His heart are constantly on us wherever we go. Yet, unlike Sue’s mom, He can act on our behalf at any time.
Psalm 91 describes God delivering, protecting, and lifting up His children. He is more than a refuge and a shelter. As we navigate the dark valleys of life, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the all-powerful Lord is watching over us and is active in our lives. “I will answer [you],” He declares. “I will be with [you] in trouble, I will deliver [you]” (v. 15).
My friend Chad spent a year as a shepherd in Wyoming. “Sheep are so dumb that they’ll only eat what is right in front of them,” he told me. “Even if they’ve eaten all the grass in front of them, they won’t turn to look for a fresh patch—they’ll just start eating dirt!”
We laughed, and I couldn’t help but think about how often the Bible compares humans to sheep. No wonder we need a shepherd! But since sheep are so dumb, not just any shepherd will do. Sheep need a shepherd who cares about them. When the prophet Ezekiel wrote to God’s people in exile, captives in Babylon, he compared them to sheep led by bad shepherds. Instead of caring for the flock, Israel’s leaders had exploited them, profiting from them (v. 3) and then leaving them for the wild animals to devour (v. 6).
But they were not without hope. God, the good shepherd, promised to rescue them from the leaders who exploited them. He promised to bring them home, put them in lush pastures, and give them rest. He would heal the injured and go after the lost (vv. 11–16). He would banish wild animals, so that his flock would be safe (v. 28).
As God’s flock, we are in need of tender care and direction. How blessed we are to have a Shepherd who is always leading us to green pastures! (v.14).
The anxious father and his teenage son sat before the psychic. “How far is your son traveling?” the psychic asked. “To the big city,” the man replied, “and he will be gone for a long time.” Handing the father a talisman (a kind of good-luck charm), he said, “This will protect him wherever he goes.”
I was that boy. However, that psychic and that talisman could do nothing for me. While in that city, I put my faith in Jesus. I threw away the talisman and clung to Christ. Having Jesus in my life guaranteed God’s presence.
Thirty years later, my father, now a believer, said to me as we rushed my brother to the hospital, “Let us first pray; the Spirit of God goes with you and will be with you all the way!” We had learned that God’s presence and power is our only security.
Moses learned a similar lesson. He had a challenging task from God—to lead the people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land (Exodus 3:10). But God assured him, “I will be with you” (v. 12).
Our journey too is not without challenges, but we are assured of God’s presence. As Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
I didn’t expect a profound lesson about the Father’s heart at the dentist’s office—but I got one. I was there with my ten-year-old son. He had an adult tooth coming in under a baby tooth that hadn’t fallen out yet. It had to come out. There was no other way.
My son, in tears, pleaded with me: “Dad, isn’t there another way? Can’t we just wait and see? Please, Dad, I don’t want to have this tooth pulled!” It just about broke my heart, but I told him, “Son, it’s got to come out. I’m sorry. There’s no other way.” And I held his hand as he wriggled and writhed while the dentist removed that stubborn molar, tears in my eyes, too. I couldn’t take his pain away; the best I could offer was to be present with him in it.
In that moment, I remembered Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asking His Father for a different way. How it must have broken the Father’s heart to see His beloved Son in such agony! Yet there was no other way to save His people.
In our lives, we sometimes face unavoidable yet painful moments—just like my son did. But because of Jesus’s work for us, through His Spirit, even in our darkest moments our loving heavenly Father is always present with us (Matthew 28:20)—just as I was present and holding my son’s hand that hard day.
As a young mother, I was determined to document my daughter’s first year of life. Each month, I took photos of her to illustrate how she had changed and grown. In one of my favorite pictures, she is gleefully sitting in the belly of a hollowed-out pumpkin I purchased from a local farmer. There she sat, the delight of my heart, contained in an overgrown squash. The pumpkin withered in the ensuing weeks, but my daughter continued to grow and thrive.
The way Paul describes knowing the truth of who Jesus is reminds me of that photo. He likens the knowledge of Jesus in our heart to a treasure stored in a clay pot. Remembering what Jesus did for us gives us the courage and strength to persevere through struggles in spite of being “hard-pressed on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Because of God’s power in our lives, when we are “struck down but not destroyed,” we reveal the life of Jesus (v. 9).
Like the pumpkin that withered, we may feel the wear and tear of our trials. But the joy of Jesus in us can continue to grow in spite of those challenges. Our knowledge of Him—His power at work in our lives—is the treasure stored in our frail clay bodies. We can flourish in the face of hardship because of His power at work within us.
“Don’t let go, Dad!”
“I won’t. I’ve got you. I promise.”
I was a little boy terrified of the water, but my dad wanted me to learn to swim. He would purposefully take me away from the side of the pool into a depth that was over my head, where he was my only support. Then he would teach me to relax and float.
It wasn’t just a swimming lesson; it was a lesson in trust. I knew my father loved me and would never let me be harmed intentionally, but I was also afraid. I would cling tightly to his neck until he reassured me all would be well. Eventually his patience and kindness won out, and I began to swim. But I had to trust him first.
When I feel “over my head” in a difficulty, I sometimes think back on those moments. They help me call to mind the Lord’s reassurance to His people: “Even to your old age . . . I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you (Isaiah 46:4).
We may not always be able to feel God’s arms beneath us, but the Lord has promised that He would “never leave us” (Hebrews 13:5). As we rest in His care and promises, He helps us learn to trust in His faithfulness. He lifts us above our worries to discover new peace in Him.