While on a hike with my kids, we discovered a light, springy green plant growing in small clumps on the trail. According to a signpost, the plant is commonly called deer moss, but it’s not actually a moss at all. It’s a lichen. A lichen is a fungus and an alga growing together in a mutualistic relationship in which both organisms benefit from each other. Neither the fungus nor the alga can survive on its own, but together they form a hardy plant that can live in some alpine areas for up to 4,500 years. Because the plant can withstand drought and low temperatures, it is one of the only food sources for caribou (reindeer) in deep winter.
The relationship between the fungus and the alga reminds me of our human relationships. We rely on each other. To grow and flourish, we need to be in relationship with each other.
Paul, writing to believers in Colossae, describes how our relationships should look. We are to clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). We ought to forgive each other and live in peace “as members of one body” (v. 15).
It’s not always easy to live in peace with our families or friends. But when the Spirit empowers us to have humility and forgiveness in our relationships, our love for each other points to Christ (John 13:35) and brings glory to God.
“Bear” was a gift for my grandchild—a heaping helping of love contained in a giant stuffed animal frame. Baby D’s response? First, wonder. Next, an amazed awe. Then, a curiosity that nudged a daring exploration. He poked his pudgy finger at Bear’s nose, and when the Bear tumbled forward into his arms he responded with joy joy JOY! Baby D laid his toddler head down on Bear’s fluffy chest and hugged him tightly. A dimpled smile spread across his cheeks as he burrowed deeply into Bear’s cushiony softness. The child had no idea of Bear’s inability to truly love him. Innocently and naturally, he felt love from Bear and returned it with all his heart.
In his first of three letters to early Christians, the apostle John boldly states that God Himself is love. “We know and rely on the love God has for us,” he writes. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
God loves. Not in the pillow of a pretend animal but rather, with the outstretched arms of a real human body encasing a beating but breaking heart (John 3:16). Through Jesus, God communicated His extravagant and sacrificial love for us.
John goes on in verse 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” When we believe we are loved, we love back. God’s real love makes it possible for us to love God and others. With all our hearts.
In just six months, Gerald’s life fell apart. An economic crisis destroyed his business and wealth, while a tragic accident took his son’s life. Overcome by shock, his mother had a heart attack and died, his wife went into depression, and his two young daughters remained inconsolable. All he could do was echo the words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
The only thing that kept Gerald going was the hope that God, who raised Jesus to life, would one day deliver him and his family from their pain to an eternal life of joy. It was a hope that God would answer his desperate cries for help. In his despair, like the psalmist David, he determined to trust God in the midst of his suffering. He held on to the hope that God would deliver and save him (vv. 4–5).
That hope sustained Gerald. Over the years, whenever he was asked how he was, he could only say, “Well, I’m trusting God.”
God honored that trust, giving Gerald the comfort, strength, and courage to keep going through the years. His family slowly recovered from the crisis, and soon Gerald welcomed the birth of his first grandchild. His cry is now a testimony of God’s faithfulness. “I’m no more ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ God has blessed me.”
When it seems there’s nothing left, there’s still hope.
My anxiety increased throughout the summer between my undergraduate and graduate programs. I love to have everything planned out, and the idea of going out of state and entering graduate school without a job made me uncomfortable. However, a few days before I left my summer job, I was asked to continue working for the company remotely. I accepted and had peace that God was taking care of me.
God provided, but it was in His timing, not mine. Abraham went through a far more difficult situation with his son Isaac. He was asked to take his son and sacrifice him in the mountains (Genesis 22:1–2). Without hesitation, Abraham obeyed and took Isaac to the mountains. This three-day journey gave Abraham plenty of time to change his mind, but he didn’t (vv. 3–4).
When Isaac questioned his father, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (v. 8). I wonder if Abraham’s anxiety grew with each knot he tied as he bound Isaac to the altar and with every inch he raised his knife (vv. 9–10). What a relief it must have been when the angel stopped him! (vv. 10–12). God did indeed provide a sacrifice, a ram, caught in the thicket (v. 13). God tested Abraham’s faith, and he proved to be faithful. And at the right time, to the very second, God provided (v. 14).
In Boston, Massachusetts, a plaque titled “Crossing the Bowl of Tears” remembers those who braved the Atlantic to escape death during the catastrophic Irish potato famine of the late 1840s. More than a million people died in that disaster, while another million or more abandoned home to cross the ocean, which John Boyle O’Reilly poetically called “the bowl of tears.” Driven by hunger and heartache, these travelers sought some measure of hope during desperate times.
In Psalm 55, David shares how he pursued hope. While we are uncertain about the specifics of the threat he faced, the weight of his experience was enough to break him emotionally (vv. 4–5). His instinctive reaction was to pray, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (v. 6).
Like David, we may want to flee to safety in the midst of painful circumstances. After considering his plight, however, David chose to run to his God instead of running from his heartache, singing, “As for me, I call to God, and the
When trouble comes, remember that the God of all comfort is able to carry you through your darkest moments and deepest fears. He promises that one day He Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Strengthened by this assurance, we can confidently trust Him with our tears now.
In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey brought devastating losses of life and property to the Gulf Coast of the US. Many people provided food, water, clothing, and shelter for those in immediate need.
A few months later, the owner of a piano store in Maryland felt prompted to do something more. He considered how music could bring a special kind of healing and sense of normalcy to people who had lost everything. So he and his staff began to refurbish pre-owned pianos and to make inquiries to see where the need was the greatest. That spring, Dean Kramer and his wife Lois began the long trek to Houston, Texas, driving a truck filled with free pianos to give to grateful families, churches, and schools in the ravaged area.
We sometimes assume the word neighbor means someone who lives nearby or at least is someone we know. But in Luke 10, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach that our love for our neighbors shouldn’t have barriers. The man from Samaria freely gave to a wounded stranger, even though the man was a Jew, part of a people group at odds with the Samaritans (vv. 25–37).
When Dean Kramer was asked why he gave away all those pianos, he explained simply: “We’re told to love our neighbors.” And it was Jesus who said, “There is no commandment greater” (Mark 12:31) than to love God and our neighbor.
Greg and Elizabeth have a regular “Joke Night” with their four school-age children. Each child brings several jokes they have read or heard (or made up themselves!) during the week to tell at the dinner table. This tradition has created joyful memories of fun shared around the table. Greg and Elizabeth even noticed the laughter was healthy for their children, lifting their spirits on difficult days.
The benefit of joyful conversation around the dinner table was observed by C.S. Lewis, who wrote, “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”
The wisdom of fostering a joyful heart is found in Proverb 17:22, where we read, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” The proverb offers a “prescription” to stimulate health and healing—allowing joy to fill our hearts, a medicine that costs little and yields great results.
We all need this biblical prescription. When we bring joy into our conversations, it can put a disagreement into perspective. It can help us to experience peace, even after a stressful test at school or a difficult day at work. Laughter among family and friends can create a safe place where we both know and feel that we are loved.
Do you need to incorporate more laughter into your life as “good medicine” for your spirit? Remember, you have encouragement from Scripture to cultivate a cheerful heart.
My friend’s father received the dreaded diagnosis: cancer. Yet, during the chemo treatment process, he became a follower of Jesus and eventually went into remission. He was cancer free for a wonderful eighteen months, but it returned—worse than before. He and his wife faced the reality of the returned cancer with concern and questions but also with a faithful trust in God because of how He saw them through the first time.
We won’t always understand why we’re going through trials. This was certainly the case for Job, who faced horrendous and unexplainable suffering and loss. Yet despite his many questions, in Job 12 he declares that God is mighty: “What he tears down cannot be rebuilt” (v. 14) and “to him belong strength and victory” (v. 16). “He makes nations great, and destroys them” (v. 23). Throughout this extensive list, Job doesn’t mention God’s motives or why He allows pain and suffering. Job doesn’t have the answers. But still despite everything, he confidently says, “to God belong wisdom and power, counsel and understanding” (v. 13).
We may not understand why God allows certain struggles in our lives, but like my friend’s parents, we can put our trust in Him. The Lord loves us and has us in His hands (v. 10; 1 Peter 5:7). Wisdom, power, and understanding are His!
At the age of fifty-four I entered the Milwaukee marathon with two goals—to finish the race and to do it under five hours. My time would have been amazing if the second 13.1 miles went as well as the first. But the race was grueling, and the second-wind strength I’d hope for never came. By the time I made it to the finish line, my steady stride had morphed into a painful walk.
Footraces aren’t the only thing that require second-wind strength—life’s race does too. To endure, tired, weary people need God’s help. Isaiah 40:27–31 beautifully weds poetry and prophecy to comfort and motivate people who need strength to keep going. Timeless words remind fatigued and discouraged people that the Lord is not detached or uncaring (v. 27), that our plight doesn’t escape His notice. These words breathe comfort and assurance, and remind us of God’s limitless power and bottomless knowledge (v. 28).
The second-wind strength described in verses 29–31 is just right for us—whether we’re in the throes of raising and providing for our families, struggling through life under the weight of physical or financial burdens, or discouraged by relational tensions or spiritual challenges. Such is the strength that awaits those who—through meditating on the Scriptures and prayer—wait upon the Lord.