I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm. As kids, whenever a storm was truly incredible—with booming thunder and buckets of heavy rain pounding down—my siblings and I would make a mad dash around the outside of our house, slipping and sliding along the way. When it was time to go back inside, we were soaked to the bone.
It was an exhilarating taste—for just for a few minutes—of being immersed in something so powerful we couldn’t quite tell whether we were having fun or terrified.
This picture comes to mind when, as in Psalm 107, Scripture compares God’s restoration to a barren wilderness transformed into “pools of water” (v. 35). Because the kind of storm that transforms a desert into an oasis isn’t a gentle shower—it’s a downpour, flooding every crack of parched ground with new life.
And isn’t that the kind of restoration we long for? When our stories feel like tales of aimless wandering because we are “hungry and thirsty”—starving—for healing that never seems to arrive (vv. 4–5), we need more than a bit of hope. And when deep-rooted patterns of sin leave us trapped “in utter darkness” (vv. 10–11), our hearts need more than a little change.
That’s exactly the kind of transformation our God can bring (v. 20). It’s never too late to bring our fears and shame to the One who’s more than able to break our chains and flood our darkness with His light (vv. 13–14).
I have a friend—her name is Edith—who told me about the day she decided to follow Jesus.
Edith cared nothing for religion. But one Sunday morning she walked into a church near her apartment looking for something to satisfy her discontented soul. The text that day was Luke 15:1–2, which the pastor read from the King James Version: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.’”
That’s what it said, but this is what Edith heard: “This man receives sinners and Edith with them.” She sat straight up in her pew! Eventually she realized her mistake, but the thought that Jesus welcomed sinners—and that included Edith—stayed with her. That afternoon she decided to “draw near” to Jesus and listen to Him. She began to read the Gospels, and soon she decided to put her faith in Him and follow Him.
The religious folks of Jesus’s day were scandalized by the fact that He ate and drank with sinful, awful people. Their rules prohibited them from associating with such folk. Jesus paid no attention to their made-up rules. He welcomed the down-and-out and gathered them to Him, no matter how far gone they were.
It’s still true, you know: Jesus receives sinners and (your name).
One of my favorite pieces of art hangs in the Keble College chapel in Oxford, England. The painting, The Light of the World by English artist William Holman Hunt, shows Jesus holding a lantern in His hand and knocking on a door to a home.
One of the intriguing aspects of the painting is that the door does not have a handle. When questioned about the lack of way to open the door, Hunt explained that he wanted to represent the imagery of Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….”
The apostle John’s words and the painting illustrate the kindness of Jesus. He gently knocks on the door of our souls with His offer of peace. Jesus stands and patiently waits for us to respond. He does not open the door Himself and force His way into our lives. He does not impose His will on ours. Instead, He offers to all people the gift of salvation and light to guide us.
To anyone who opens the door, He promises to enter. There are no other requirements or prerequisites.
If you hear the voice of Jesus and His gentle knock on the door of your soul, be encouraged that He patiently waits for you and will enter if you welcome Him in.
A boy born with cerebral palsy was unable to speak or communicate. But his mother, Chantal Bryan, never gave up, and when he was ten years old she figured out how to communicate with him through his eyes and a letter board. After this breakthrough, she said, “He was unlocked and we could ask him anything.” Now Jonathan reads and writes, including poetry, by communicating through his eyes. When asked what it’s like to “talk” with his family and friends, he said, “It is wonderful to tell them I love them.”
Jonathan’s story is profoundly moving and leads me to consider how God unlocks us from the prison of sin. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae, once we were “alienated from God” (Col. 1:21), our evil behavior making us His enemy, but through Christ’s death on the cross we are now presented to God as “holy in his sight” (v. 22). We may now “live a life worthy of the Lord” as we bear fruit, grow in the knowledge of God, and are strengthened in His power (vv. 10–11).
We can use our unlocked voices to praise God and share His good news that we are no longer bound to a life of sin. As we continue in our faith, we can hold firm to our hope in Christ.
When I was a boy in the village, something about chickens fascinated me. Whenever I caught one, I held it down for a few moments and then gently released it. Thinking I was still holding it, the chicken remained down; even though it was free to dash away, it felt trapped.
When we put our faith in Jesus, He graciously delivers us from sin and the hold that Satan had on us. However, because it may take time to change our sinful habits and behavior, Satan can make us feel trapped. But God’s Spirit has set us free; He doesn’t enslave us. Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
Through our Bible reading, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit God works in us to cleanse us and to help us live for Him. The Bible encourages us to be confident in our walk with Jesus without feeling as if we are not set free.
Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). May the freedom we have in Christ spur us on to love Him and serve Him.
I got myself into this mess, so I’d better get myself out, I sometimes find myself thinking. Although I believe in a God of grace, I’m still prone to act as if His help is available only when I deserve it.
God’s first encounter with Jacob is a beautiful illustration of how untrue this is.
Jacob had spent a lifetime trying to alter his destiny. He’d been born second at a time when firstborn sons typically received their father’s blessing—believed to guarantee future prosperity.
So Jacob decided to do whatever it would take to get his father’s blessing anyway. Eventually, he succeeded—through deceit—obtaining the blessing intended for his brother (Genesis 27:19–29).
But the price was a divided family, as Jacob fled from his furious brother (vv. 41–43). As night descended (28:11), Jacob must have felt as far from a life of blessing as ever.
But it was there, leaving behind a trail of deception, that Jacob met God. God showed him he didn’t need desperate schemes to be blessed; he already was. His destiny—a purpose far greater than material prosperity (v. 14)—was held securely by the One who would never leave him (v. 15).
It was a lesson Jacob would spend his whole life learning.
And so will we. No matter how many regrets we carry or how distant God seems, He is still there—gently guiding us out of our mess into His blessing.
Some years ago a traveling companion noticed I was straining to see objects at a distance. What he did next was simple but life changing. He took off his glasses and said, “Try these.” When I put his glasses on, surprisingly my blurred vision cleared up. Eventually I went to an optometrist who prescribed glasses to correct my vision problem.
Today’s reading in Luke 18 features a man with no vision at all; and living in total darkness had forced him to beg for a living. Word about Jesus, the popular teacher and miracle worker, had reached the blind beggar’s ears; so when Jesus’s travel route took Him by where the blind man was sitting, hope was ignited in his heart. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 38) he called. Though without sight physically, the man possessed spiritual insight into Jesus’s true identity and faith in Him to meet his need. Compelled by this faith, “He shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (v. 39). The result? His blindness was banished, and he went from begging for his living to blessing God because he could see (v. 43).
In moments or seasons of darkness, where do you turn? Upon what or to whom do you call? Eyeglass prescriptions help improve vision, but it’s the merciful touch of Jesus, God’s Son, that brings people from spiritual darkness to light.
The loud, sorrowful cry pierced the dark afternoon air. I imagine it drowning out the sound of mourning from friends and loved ones gathered at Jesus’s feet. It must have overwhelmed the moans of the dying criminals who flanked Jesus on both sides. And surely startled all who heard it.
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani!” Jesus cried out in agony and in utter despondency as He hung on that cross of shame on Golgotha (Matthew 27:45–46).
“My God,” He said, “my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I cannot think of more heart-wrenching words. Since eternity, Jesus had been in perfect fellowship with God the Father. Together they had created the universe, had fashioned mankind in their image, and planned salvation. Never in the eons past had they not been in total fellowship with each other.
And now, as the anguish of the cross continued to bring devastating pain on Jesus—He for the first time lost the awareness of God’s presence as He carried the burden of the sins of the world.
It was the only way. Only through this time of interrupted fellowship could our salvation be provided for. And it was only because Jesus was willing to experience this sense of being forsaken on the cross that we humans can gain fellowship with God.
Thank You, Jesus, for experiencing such pain so we could be forgiven.
In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to integrate an all-white public elementary school in the American South. Every day for months, federal marshals escorted Ruby past a mob of angry parents shouting curses, threats and insults at her. Safely inside, she sat in a classroom alone with Barbara Henry, the only teacher willing to instruct her while parents kept their children from attending school with Ruby.
Noted child psychologist Robert Coles met with Ruby for several months to help her cope with the fear and stress she experienced. He was amazed by the prayer Ruby said every day as she walked to school and back home. “Please, God, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).
The words of Jesus spoken from the cross were stronger than the hatred and insults hurled at Him. In the most agonizing hours of His life, our Lord demonstrated the radical response He taught His followers: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . . Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27–28,
This remarkable approach is possible only as we consider the powerful love Jesus has given us – love stronger than even the deepest hatred.
Ruby Bridges helped show us the way.