When I clean my house for a special event, I become discouraged because I think that guests won’t notice what I clean, only what I don't clean. This brings to mind a larger philosophical and spiritual question: Why do humans more quickly see what's wrong than what's right? We are more likely to remember rudeness than kindness. Crimes seem to receive more attention than acts of generosity. And disasters grab our attention more quickly than the profound beauty all around us.
But then I realize I am the same way with God. I tend to focus on what He hasn't done rather than on what He has, on what I don't have rather than on what I have, on the situations that He has not yet resolved rather than on the many He has.
When I read the book of Job, I am reminded that the Lord doesn't like this any more than I do. After years of experiencing prosperity, Job suffered a series of disasters. Suddenly those became the focus of his life and conversations. Finally, God intervened and asked Job some hard questions, reminding him of His sovereignty and of everything Job didn't know and hadn't seen (Job 38–40).
Whenever I start focusing on the negative, I hope I remember to stop, consider the life of Job, and take notice of all the wonders God has done and continues to do.
My mother taught Sunday school for decades. One week she wanted to explain how God supplied food for the Israelites in the wilderness. To make the story come alive, she created something to represent “manna” for the kids in her class. She cut bread into small pieces and topped them with honey. Her recipe was inspired by the Bible’s description of manna that says it “tasted like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:31).
When the Israelites first encountered God’s bread from heaven, it appeared on the ground outside their tents like frost. “When [they] saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ ” (v. 15). The Hebrew word man means “what,” so they called it manna. They discovered they could grind it and form it into loaves or cook it in a pot (Num. 11:7-8). Whatever it was, it had a baffling arrival (Ex. 16:4,14), a unique consistency (v. 14), and a short expiration date (vv. 19-20).
Sometimes God provides for us in surprising ways. This reminds us that He is not bound by our expectations, and we can’t predict what He will choose to do. While we wait, focusing on who He is rather than what we think He should do will help us find joy and satisfaction in our relationship with Him.
The church service was still in progress, and we had some visitors there that morning. The speaker was only halfway through his sermon when I noticed one of our visitors walking out. I was curious and concerned, so I walked out to talk with her.
“You’re leaving so soon,” I said, approaching her. “Is there a problem I can help with?” She was frank and forthright. “Yes,” she said, “my problem is that sermon! I don’t accept what the preacher is saying.” He had said that no matter what we accomplish in life, the credit and praise belong to God. “At least,” the woman moaned, “I deserve some credit for my achievements!”
I explained to her what the pastor meant. People do deserve recognition and appreciation for what they do. Yet even our gifts and talents are from God, so He gets the glory. Even Jesus, the Son of God, said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). He told His followers, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).
We acknowledge the Lord as the one who helps us to accomplish everything.
“The Little Drummer Boy” is a popular Christmas song written in 1941. It was originally known as “Carol of the Drum” and is based on a traditional Czech carol. Although there isn’t any reference to a drummer boy in the Christmas story in Matthew 1–2 and Luke 2, the point of the carol goes straight to the heart of the meaning of worship. The carol describes how a boy is summoned by the Magi to the scene of Christ’s birth. Unlike the wise men, however, the drummer has no gift—so he gives what he has. He plays his drum, saying, “I played my best for Him.”
This echoes the worship Jesus described when He told of the widow and her two coins: “ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’ ” (Luke 21:3-4).
All the drummer boy had was his drum and all the poor widow had were her two coins, but the God they worshiped was worthy of their all. He is worthy of our all as well, having given His all for us.
One afternoon I was having a discussion with a friend I considered my spiritual mentor about misusing God’s name. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” says the third commandment (Ex. 20:7). We may think this only refers to attaching God’s name to a swear word or using His name flippantly or irreverently. But my mentor rarely missed an opportunity to teach me about real faith. He challenged me to think about other ways we profane God’s name.
When I reject the advice of others and say, “God told me to go this way,” I misuse His name if all I am doing is seeking approval for my own desires.
When I use Scripture out of context to try to support an idea I want to be true, I am using God’s name in vain.
When I teach, write, or speak from Scripture carelessly, I misuse His name.
Author John Piper offers this reflection on what it means to take God’s name in vain: “The idea is . . . ‘don’t empty the name.’ . . . Don’t empty God of His weight and glory.” We misuse His name, Piper says, when we “speak of God in a way that empties Him of His significance.”
My friend challenged me to honor God’s name and to pay closer attention to using His Word carefully and accurately. Anything less dishonors Him.
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” says the Westminster Catechism. Much of Scripture calls for joyful gratitude and adoration of the living God. When we honor God, we celebrate Him as the Source from which all goodness flows.
When we praise God from our heart we find ourselves in that joyful state for which we were created. Just as a beautiful sunset or a peaceful pastoral scene points to the majesty of the Creator, so worship draws us into a close spiritual union with Him. The psalmist says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . . The Lord is near to all who call on him” (Ps. 145:3,18).
God does not need our praise, but we need to praise God. By basking in His presence we drink in the joy of His infinite love and rejoice in the One who came to redeem and restore us. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” the psalmist says. “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11 esv).
An old Native American story tells of a young boy who was sent into the woods alone on an autumn night to prove his courage. Soon the sky darkened and the sounds of night filled the air. Trees creaked and groaned, an owl screeched, and a coyote howled. Even though he was frightened, the boy remained in the woods all night, as the test of courage required. Finally morning came, and he saw a solitary figure nearby. It was his grandfather, who had been watching over him all night long.
When Moses went deep into the desert, he saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up. Then God began talking to him from the bush, commissioning him to go back to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of cruel slavery to freedom. A reluctant Moses began to ask questions: “Who am I that I should go?”
God simply answered, “I will be with you.”
“Suppose I . . . say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God replied, “I am who I am. . . . [Say to them,] I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex. 3:11-14). The phrase “I am who I am” can be interpreted, “I will be who I will be” and reveals God’s eternal and all-sufficient character.
God has promised always to be present with those who believe in Jesus. No matter how dark the night, the unseen God is ready to respond appropriately to our need.
Everyone touched by a piece of music hears it differently. The composer hears it in the chamber of his imagination. The audience hears it with their senses and emotions. The members of the orchestra hear most clearly the sound of the instruments closest to them.
In a sense, we are the members of God’s orchestra. Often we hear only the music closest to us. Because we don’t hear a balanced work, we are like Job who cried as he suffered: “Now those young men mock me in song; I have become a byword among them” (Job 30:9).
Job recalled how princes and officials had respected him. His life was “awash in cream, and the rocks gushed olive oil for me” (29:6 nlt). But now, he had become the target of mockers. “My harp plays sad music,” he lamented (30:31 nlt). Yet there was much, much more to the symphony. Job simply couldn’t hear the whole song.
Maybe today you can hear only the sad notes of your own violin. Don’t lose heart. Every detail in your life is part of God’s composition. Or perhaps you are listening to a cheerful flute. Praise God for it and share your joy with someone else.
God’s masterpiece of redemption is the symphony we are playing, and ultimately everything will work together for His good purposes. God is the composer of our lives. His song is perfect, and we can trust Him.
I caught my first glimpse of them as a college student. On a frosty, fall night, far from the lights of the city, I was riding on a hay wagon loaded with noisy friends when the sky lit up and colors flashed across the horizon. I was mesmerized. Ever since that night I have been fascinated with the phenomenon called aurora borealis, also known as northern lights. Mostly they are seen far north of where I live, but occasionally they appear in lower latitudes. Having seen them once, I long to see more. Whenever the conditions are favorable, I say to my equally fascinated friends, “Maybe tonight . . .”
Throughout Scripture, light and glory are used to describe the coming of the Lord. A time is coming when the sun and moon will be unnecessary (Isa. 60:19). And in describing God on His throne, the apostle John wrote, “The one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne” (Rev. 4:3).
An emerald circle is an apt description of the northern lights. So whenever I see glorious light displays in the skies above—whether in person or via picture or video—I think of it as a foretaste of what is to come, and I praise God that even now His glory pierces the darkness.