Category  |  Christian Living

Precious

“My precious . . .” First portrayed in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the image of the emaciated creature Gollum in his maniacal obsession with the “precious” “ring of power” has become an iconic one today—for greed, obsession, even insanity.

It’s also a troublingly relatable image. In his tormented love-hate relationship with both the ring and with himself, Gollum’s voice echoes the hunger in our own hearts. Whether it’s directed at one thing in particular, or just a vague longing for “more,” we’re sure that once we finally get our own “precious,” we’ll be satisfied. But instead, what we thought would make us whole leaves us feeling even emptier than before.

There’s a better way to live. As David expresses in Psalm 16, when the longings in our hearts threaten to send us on a desperate, futile quest for satisfaction (v. 4), we can remember to turn to God for refuge (v. 1), reminding ourselves that apart from Him we have nothing (v. 4).

And as our eyes stop looking for satisfaction “out there” to gaze instead on God’s beauty (v. 8), we find ourselves finally tasting true contentment—a life of basking in the “joy [of God’s] presence,” walking with Him each moment in “the way of life”—now and forever (v. 11 nlt).

Out of the Trap

The Venus flytrap was first discovered in a small area of sandy wetlands not far from our home in North Carolina. These plants are fascinating to watch because they are carnivorous.

Venus flytraps release a sweet-smelling nectar into colorful traps that resemble open flowers. When an insect crawls inside, triggering sensors along the outer rim, the trap clamps shut in less than a second—capturing its victim. The trap then closes further and emits enzymes that consume its prey over time, giving the plant nutrients not provided by the sandy soil.

God’s Word tells of another trap that can capture unexpectedly. The apostle Paul warned his protégé Timothy: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” And “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).

Money and material things may promise happiness, but when they take first place in our lives, we walk on dangerous ground. We avoid this trap by living with thankful, humble hearts focused on God’s goodness to us through Jesus: “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v. 6).

The transient things of this world never satisfy like God can. True, lasting contentment is found only through our relationship with Him.

Sovereign Intervention

Barbara grew up under the care of the British government in the 1960s, but when she turned sixteen, she and her newborn son Simon became homeless. The state was no longer obligated to provide for her at that age. Barbara wrote to the Queen of England for help and received a response! The Queen compassionately arranged for Barbara to be given a house of her own.

The Queen of England had the right resources to help Barbara, and her compassionate assistance can be seen as a small picture of God’s. The King of heaven knows all of our needs and sovereignly works out His plans in our lives. As He does, however, He longs for us to come to him—sharing our needs and other prayer concerns—as part of our loving relationship with Him.

The Israelites brought their need for deliverance to God. They were suffering under the burden of Egyptian slavery and cried out for help. He heard them and remembered His promise: “God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exodus 2:25). He instructed Moses to bring liberty to His people and declared that He would once again release them “into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (3:8).

Our King delights in our coming to Him! He wisely provides what we need, not necessarily what we want. May we rest in His sovereign, loving provision.

God Looms Larger

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.

Starting Now

When my oldest sister’s biopsy revealed cancer in late February 2017, I remarked to friends, “I need to spend as much time with Carolyn as possible—starting now.” Some told me my feelings were an overreaction to the news. But she died within ten months, and even though I had spent hours with her, when we love someone there’s never enough time for our hearts to love enough.

The apostle Peter called Jesus’s followers in the early church to “love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8). They were suffering under persecution and needed the love of their brothers and sisters in their Christian community more than ever. Because God had poured His own love into their hearts, they would then desire to love in return. Their love would be expressed through praying, offering gracious hospitality, and gentle and truthful conversation—all in the strength God provided (vv. 9–11). Through His grace, God had gifted them to sacrificially serve each other for His good purposes. So that “in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (v. 11). This is God’s powerful plan that accomplishes His will through us.

We need others and they need us. Let’s use whatever time or resources we have received from God to serve—starting now.

Practicing What We Preach

Pastor and spiritual writer Eugene Peterson had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Swiss physician and highly respected pastoral counselor Paul Tournier. Peterson had read the doctor’s works, and admired his approach to healing. The lecture left a deep impression on Peterson. As he listened, he had the feeling that Tournier lived what he spoke and spoke what he lived. Peterson chose this word to describe his experience: “Congruence. It is the best word I can come up with.”

Congruence – it’s what some refer to as “practicing what you preach” or “walking your talk.” John stresses that if any of us “claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister,” then we’re “still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). In essence, our lives and our words simply don’t match up. John goes further to say such people “do not know where they are going” (v. 11). The word he chose to describe how incongruence leaves us? Blind.

Living closely aligned to God by allowing the light of His Word to illuminate our paths keeps us from living blind. The result is a godly vision giving clarity and focus to our days—our words and actions match up. When others observe this congruence, the impression our lives leave is not necessarily that of someone who knows everywhere they’re going, but someone who clearly knows who they are following.

Divine Diversions

It can be difficult when we’re told “no” or “not now,” especially when we sense God has opened a door for us to serve others. Early in my ministry, two opportunities came my way where I thought my gifts and skills matched the churches’ needs, but both doors eventually closed. After these two disappointments, another position came along, and I was selected. With that ministry call came thirteen years of life-touching pastoral labors.

Twice in Acts 16 Paul and company were redirected by God. First, they were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (v. 6). Then, “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (v. 7). Unknown to them, the Lord had other plans that would be right for His work and workers. The Lord’s no to the previous plans put them in a position to listen to and be confidently led by Him (vv. 9–10).

Who among us hasn’t grieved what we initially deemed to be a painful loss? We’ve felt wounded when we didn’t get a certain job, when a service opportunity didn’t materialize, when a relocation got derailed. Though such things can momentarily be weighty, time often reveals that such detours are actually divine diversions that the Lord graciously uses to get us where He wants us, and we are grateful.

Vanity on Fire

In February 1497, a Monk named Girolama Savonarola started a fire. Leading up to this, he and his followers spent several months collecting items that they thought might entice people to sin or neglect their religious duties—including artwork, cosmetics, instruments, and dresses. On the appointed day, thousands of vanity items were gathered at a public square in Florence, Italy, and set on fire. The event has come to be known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.

Savonarola might have found inspiration for his extreme actions in some shocking statements from the Sermon on the Mount. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away,” said Jesus. “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29–30). But if we interpret Jesus’s words literally, we miss the point of the message. The entire sermon is a treatise on going deeper than the surface, to focus on the state of our hearts rather than blaming our behavior on external distractions and temptations.

The Bonfire of the Vanities made a great show of destroying belongings and works of art, but it is unlikely that the hearts of those involved were changed in the process. Only God can change a heart. That’s why the psalmist prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Life’s vanities don’t matter. It’s our heart that counts.

Playing with Joy

One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach. One year, as his team was threading its way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament, well-meaning folks around town asked, “Are you going to win it all this year?” Both players and coaches felt the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: “Play with joy!”

I thought of the apostle Paul’s last words to the elders of Ephesus: “That I may finish my race with joy” (Acts 20:24 nkjv). His aim was to complete the tasks Jesus had given him. I have made these words my mantra and my prayer: “May I run and finish my race with joy.” Or as Brian says, “May I play with joy!” And by the way, Brian’s team did win the state championship that year.

We all have good reasons to get grouchy: world news, everyday stresses, health problems. Nevertheless God can give us a joy that transcends these conditions if we ask Him. We can have what Jesus called, "My joy" (John 15:11).

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Jesus (Galatians 5:22). So I must remember each morning to ask Him to help me: "May I play with joy!” Author Richard Foster said, “To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by . . . joy.”

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