The rafting guide escorted our group to the river’s edge and directed us all to put on life jackets and grab paddles. As we climbed into the boat, he assigned us seats to balance the boat’s weight, providing stability when we encountered rapids. After highlighting the thrills the watery voyage ahead would hold for us, he detailed a series of directions we could expect to hear—and would need to follow—to effectively steer the boat through the whitewater. He assured us that even though there might be tense moments on the way, our journey would be both exciting and safe.
Sometimes life feels like a white-water rafting trip, one that contains more rapids than we might like. God’s promise to Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, can guide our feelings when we fear the worst is happening: “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2). The Israelites faced an overwhelming fear of rejection by God as they went into exile as a consequence of their sin. Yet instead, He affirms them and promises to be with them because He loves them (vv. 2, 4).
God won’t abandon us in the rough waters. We can trust Him to guide us through the rapids—our deepest fears and most painful troubles—because He also loves us and promises to be with us.
When our son, Xavier, was younger, business trips often pulled my husband away from home. Though his father called often, there were rough nights when the calls alone didn’t comfort Xavier. To help soothe our son when he felt he needed his dad, I’d pull out our homemade photo albums as he prepared for bedtime. I’d point out the images that showed them spending time together and ask, “Do you remember this?”
Memory after memory encouraged our son, who often said, “I have a good daddy.”
I understood Xavier’s need to be reminded of his father’s love when he couldn’t see him. Whenever I’m going through tough or lonely times, I too long to know I’m loved, especially by my Heavenly Father.
David proclaimed his deep yearning for God as he hid from his enemies in the desert (Psalm 63:1). Remembering his personal encounters with God’s limitless power and satisfying love led him to praise (vv. 2–5). Through his most difficult nights, David could still rejoice in his dependable Father’s loving care (vv. 6–8).
During our dark times, when we feel as if God’s not there for us, we need reminders of who God is and how He’s demonstrated His love. Reflecting on our personal experiences with Him, as well as His actions recorded in Scripture, can affirm the countless ways our good Abba Father loves us.
During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, more people were looking for work than there were jobs available. I was one of those job seekers. After nine anxious months, I landed employment as a copywriter. But the company soon fell on bad times and I was jobless again.
Ever been there? It seems like the worst is over when suddenly the bottom drops out on you. The widow at Zarephath could relate (1 Kings 17:9). Due to a famine, she was preparing the last meal for herself and her son when the prophet Elijah requested a bite to eat. She reluctantly agreed and God provided a continuous supply of flour and oil (vv. 10–16).
But then her son fell ill. His health declined until he stopped breathing. The widow cried out, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (v. 18).
At times, we may want to respond like the widow—wondering if God is punishing us. We forget that bad things can happen in this fallen world.
Elijah took the concern to God, praying earnestly and honestly for the boy, and God raised him up! (vv. 20–22).
When the bottom drops out on us, may we—like Elijah—realize that the faithful One will not desert us! We can rest in God’s purposes even as we pray for understanding.
My coworker Tom keeps an 8” by 12” glass cross on his desk. His friend Phil, who like Tom is a cancer survivor, gave it to him to help him look at everything “through the cross.” The glass cross is a constant reminder of God’s love and good purposes for him.
That’s a challenging idea for all believers in Jesus, especially during difficult times. It’s much easier to focus on our problems than on God’s love.
The apostle Paul’s life was certainly an example of a cross-shaped perspective. He described himself in times of suffering as being “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9). He believed that in the hard times, God is at work, “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (vv. 17–18).
To “fix our eyes . . . on what is unseen” doesn’t mean we minimize the problems. Paul Barnett, in his commentary on this passage, explains, “There is to be confidence, based on the certainty of God’s purposes for [us] . . . . On the other hand, there is the sober recognition that we groan with hope mingled with pain.”
Jesus gave His life for us. His love is deep and sacrificial. As we look at life “through the cross,” we see His love and faithfulness. And our trust in Him grows.
Laura’s mom was battling cancer. One morning Laura prayed for her with a friend. Her friend, who had been disabled for years by cerebral palsy, prayed: “Lord, you do everything for me. Please do everything for Laura’s mother.”
Laura was deeply moved by her friend’s “declaration of dependence” on God. Reflecting on the moment, she said: “How often do I acknowledge my need for God in everything? It’s something I should do every day!”
During His days on earth Jesus demonstrated continual dependence on His heavenly Father. One might think that because Jesus is God in a human body, He would have the best of all reasons to be self-sufficient. But when the religious authorities asked Him to give a reason for “working” on a legally ordained day of rest because He healed someone on the Sabbath, He responded, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). Jesus declared His dependence as well!
Jesus’ reliance on the Father sets the ultimate example of what it means to live in relationship with God. Every moment we draw breath is a gift from God, and He wants our lives to be filled with His strength. When we live to love and serve Him through our moment-by-moment prayer and reliance on His Word, we are declaring our dependence on Him.
When I met Ada, she had outlived her entire group of friends and family and was living in a nursing home. “It’s the hardest part of getting old,” she told me “watching everyone else move on and leave you behind.” One day I asked Ada what kept her interest and how she spent her time. She answered me with a Scripture passage from the apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21): “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Then she said, “While I’m still around, I have work to do. On my good days, I get to talk to the people here about Jesus; on the hard days, I can still pray.”
Significantly, Paul wrote Philippians while in prison. And he acknowledged a reality many Christians understand as they face their mortality: Even though heaven seems so inviting, the time we have left on Earth matters to God.
Like Paul, Ada recognized that every breath she took was an opportunity to serve and glorify God. So Ada spent her days loving others and introducing them to her Savior.
Even in our darkest moments, Christians can hold on to the promise of permanent joy in the company of God. And while we live, we enjoy relationship with Him. He fills all our moments with significance.
My very first job was at a fast-food restaurant. One Saturday evening, a guy kept hanging around, asking when I got out of work. It made me feel uneasy. As the hour grew later, he ordered fries, then a drink, so the manager wouldn’t kick him out. Though I didn’t live far, I was scared to walk home alone through a couple of dark parking lots and a stretch through a sandy field. Finally, at midnight, I went in the office to make a phone call.
And the person who answered—my dad—without a second thought got out of a warm bed and five minutes later was there to take me home.
The kind of certainty I had that my dad would come to help me that night reminds me of the assurance we read about in Psalm 91. Our Father in heaven is always with us, protecting and caring for us when we are confused or afraid or in need. He declares: “When they call on me, I will answer” (Psalm 91:15 nlt). He is not just a place we can run to for safety. He is our shelter (v. 1). He is the Rock we can cling to for refuge (v. 2).
In times of fear, danger, or uncertainty, we can trust God’s promise that when we call on Him, He will hear and be with us in our trouble (vv. 14–15). God is our safe place.
During a vacation, my husband and I signed up for a leisurely tour down Georgia’s Chattahoochee River. Dressed in sandals, a sundress, and a wide brimmed hat, I groaned when we discovered—contrary to the advertisement—that the trip included light rapids. Thankfully, we rode with a couple experienced in whitewater rafting. They taught my husband the basics of paddling and promised to navigate us safely to our destination. Grateful for my life jacket, I screamed and gripped the plastic handle on the raft until we reached the muddy bank downriver. I stepped onto the shore and dumped water from my purse as my husband helped me wring out the hem of my soaked dress. We enjoyed a good laugh, even though the trip had not turned out as advertised.
Unlike the tour brochure, which clearly left out a key detail about the trip, Jesus explicitly warned His disciples that rough waters were ahead. He told them that they’d be persecuted and martyred and that He would die and be resurrected. He also guaranteed His trustworthiness, affirming that He would guide them toward undeniable triumph and everlasting hope (John 16:16–33).
Although it would be nice if life were easier when we follow Jesus, He made it clear that His disciples would have troubles. But He promised to be with us. Trials won’t define, limit, or destroy God’s plan for us, because Jesus’s resurrection has already propelled us to eternal victory.
When our granddaughter Sarah was very young, she explained to me what happens when you die: “Only your face goes to heaven, not your body. You get a new body, but keep the same face.”
Sarah’s concept of our eternal state was a child’s understanding, of course, but she did grasp an essential truth. In a sense, our faces are a visible reflection of the invisible soul.
My mother used to say that an angry look might someday freeze on my face. She was wiser than she knew. A worried brow, an angry set to our mouths, a sly look in our eyes may reveal a miserable soul. On the other hand, kind eyes, a gentle look, a warm and welcoming smile—despite wrinkles, blemishes, and other disfigurements—become the marks of inner transformation.
We can’t do much about the faces we were born with, but we can do something about the kind of person we’re growing into. We can pray for humility, patience, kindness, tolerance, gratefulness, forgiveness, peace, and love (Galatians 5:22–26).
By God’s grace, and in His time, you and I may grow toward an inner resemblance to our Lord, a likeness reflected in a kind, old face. Thus, as John Donne said, age becomes “loveliest at the latest day.”