Category  |  Spiritual Growth

Always Accepted

After several years of struggling to keep up in her studies, Angie was finally taken out of her elite primary school and transferred to a “normal” one. In Singapore’s intensely competitive education landscape, where being in a “good” school can improve one’s future prospects, many would see this as a failure.

Angie’s parents were disappointed, and Angie herself felt as if she had been demoted. But soon after joining her new school, the nine year old realized what it meant to be in a class of average students. “Mummy, I belong here,” she said. “I’m finally accepted!”

It reminded me of how excited Zacchaeus must have felt when Jesus invited Himself to the tax collector’s home (Luke 19:5). Christ was interested in dining with those who knew they were flawed and didn’t deserve God’s grace (v. 10). Having found us—and loved us—as we were, Jesus gives us the promise of perfection through His death and resurrection. We are made perfect through His grace alone.

I’ve often found my spiritual journey to be one of constant struggle, knowing that my life falls far short of God’s ideal. How comforting it is know that we are always accepted, for the Holy Spirit is in the business of molding us to be like Jesus.

The Prayer and the Chain Saw

I respect my Aunt Gladys’s intrepid spirit, even if that very spirit concerns me sometimes. The source of my concern came in the form of news she shared in an email: “I cut down a walnut tree yesterday.”

You must understand that my chain-saw wielding aunt is seventy-six years old! The tree had grown up behind her garage. When the roots threatened to burst through the concrete, she knew it had to go. But she did tell us, “I always pray before I tackle a job like that.”

While serving as butler to the king of Persia during the time of Israel’s exile, Nehemiah heard news concerning the people who had returned to Jerusalem. Some work needed to be done. “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (1:3). The broken walls left them vulnerable to attack by enemies. Nehemiah had compassion for his people and wanted to get involved. But prayer came first, especially since a new king had written a letter to stop the building efforts in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4). Nehemiah prayed for his people (vv. 5–10), and then asked God for help before requesting permission from the king to leave (v. 11).

Is prayer your response? It’s always the best way to face any task or trial in life.

Much More Than Words

At a dedication ceremony during which a Bible translated into a local African language was presented, the area chief was presented with his own copy. In appreciation, he lifted the Bible to the skies and exclaimed, “Now we know God understands our language! We can read the Bible in our own native mother-tongue.”

No matter our language, our heavenly Father understands it. But often we feel unable to express our deepest longings to Him. The apostle Paul encourages us to pray regardless. Paul speaks of our suffering world and our own pain: “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” and he compares that to the Holy Spirit’s work on our behalf. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” he writes. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).

God’s Holy Spirit knows us intimately. He knows our longings, our heart-language, and our unspoken words, and He helps us in our communication with God. His Spirit draws us to be transformed into the image of God the Son (v. 29).

Our heavenly Father understands our language and speaks to us through His Word. When we think our prayers are weak or too short, His Holy Spirit helps us by speaking through us to the Father. He yearns for us to talk with Him in prayer.

Courageous Stand

Teresa Prekerowa was just a teenager when the Nazis invaded her native Poland at the dawn of World War II. This was in the beginnings of the Holocaust when her Jewish neighbors began to disappear—arrested by the Nazis. So Teresa and other Polish countrymen risked their lives to rescue those neighbors from the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi purge. Teresa would become one of the premier historians of the war and the Holocaust, but it was her courage to stand against the tide of evil that would list her with the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Courage is needed to stand against evil. Paul told the church at Ephesus, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Clearly this unseen opposition is more than any of us can face alone, so God has given us the necessary spiritual resources (the “full armor of God”) to enable us to “stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11).

What might that courageous stand involve? It may be working against injustice or intervening on behalf of someone you know who is vulnerable or victimized. Whatever form the conflict may take, we can have courage—our God has already provided what we need to stand for Him and against evil. 

Asking for Help

Her email arrived late in a long day. In truth, I didn’t open it. I was working overtime to help a family member manage his serious illness. I didn’t have time, therefore, for social distractions.

The next morning, however, when I clicked on my friend’s message, I saw this question: “Can I help you in any way?” Feeling embarrassed, I started to answer no. Then I took a deep breath to pause. I noticed then that her question sounded familiar—if not divine.

That’s because Jesus asked it. Hearing a blind beggar call out to Him on the Jericho Road, Jesus stopped to ask this man, named Bartimaeus, a similar  question. Can I help? Or as Jesus said: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).

The question is stunning. It shows the Healer Jesus longs to help us. But first, we’re invited to admit needing Him—a humbling step. The “professional” beggar Bartimaeus was needy, indeed—poor, alone, possibly hungry and downcast too. But wanting a new life, he simply told Jesus his most basic need. “Rabbi,” he said, “I want to see.”

For a blind man, it was an honest plea. Jesus healed him immediately. My friend sought such honesty from me too. So I promised her I’d pray to understand my basic need and, more important, I’d humbly tell her. Do you know your basic need today? When a friend asks, tell it. Then take your plea even higher. Tell God.

Asking God First

In the early days of our marriage, I struggled to figure out my wife’s preferences. Did she want a quiet dinner at home or a meal at a fancy restaurant? Was it okay for me to hang out with the guys, or did she expect me to keep the weekend free for her? Once, instead of guessing and deciding first, I asked her, “What do you want?”

“I’m fine with either,” she replied with a warm smile. “I’m just happy you thought of me.”

At times I have wanted desperately to know exactly what God wanted me to do—such as which job to take. Praying for guidance and reading the Bible didn’t reveal any specific answers. But one answer was clear: I was to trust in the Lord, take delight in Him, and commit my way to Him (Psalm 37:3–5).

That’s when I realized that God usually gives us the freedom of choice—if we first seek to put His ways before our own. That means dropping choices that are plainly wrong or would not please God. It might be something immoral, ungodly, or unhelpful toward our relationship with Him. If the remaining options please God, then we are free to choose from them. Our loving Father wants to give us the desires of our hearts—hearts that take delight in Him (v. 4).

Walking God’s Way

“We’re going this way,” I said as I touched my son’s shoulder and redirected him through the crowd to follow his mom and sisters in front of us. I’d done this more often as the day wore on at the amusement park our family was visiting. He was getting tired, so it didn’t take much to distract him. Why can’t he just follow them? I wondered.

Then it hit me: How often do I do exactly the same thing? How often do I veer from obediently walking with God, enchanted by the temptations to pursue what I want instead of seeking His ways?

Think of Isaiah’s words from the Lord for Israel: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’ ” (Isaiah 30:21). Earlier in that chapter, God had rebuked His people for their rebelliousness. But if they would trust His strength instead of their own ways (v. 15), God promised to show His graciousness and compassion (v. 18).

One expression of God’s graciousness is His promise to guide us by His Spirit. That happens as we talk to Him about our desires and ask in prayer what He has for us. I’m thankful God patiently directs us, day-by-day, step-by-step, as we trust Him and listen for His voice. 

Listening to Your Brother

“You need to listen to me, I’m your brother!” The plea came from a concerned older brother in my neighborhood and was directed to a younger sibling who was moving farther away and faster than the older child was comfortable with. Clearly the older child was better able to judge what was best in the situation.

How many of us have resisted the wise counsel of a brother or sister? If you have had to face the consequences of resisting the good advice of someone more mature, you are not alone.

One of the greatest resources we can have as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is a family—those who are spiritually related because of a common faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. This family includes mature men and women who love the Lord and each other. Like the little brother in my neighborhood, we sometimes need a word of caution or correction to get us back on track. This is particularly true when we offend someone or someone offends us. Doing what’s right can be difficult. Yet Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:15–20 show us what to do when offenses happen within our spiritual family.

Thankfully, our gracious heavenly Father places in our lives people who are prepared to help us honor the Lord and others. And when we listen, things go better in the family (vv. 15–16). 

Legacies of Love

I was paging through my great-grandmother’s Bible when a treasure fell into my lap. On a small scrap of paper, in a young child’s handwriting, were the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:3–4 kjv). Scribbled beside those verses in wobbly cursive was my mother’s signature.

My great-grandmother had a habit of teaching her grandchildren to write Scripture verses so they would learn them and take them to heart. But the story behind this verse brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather died when my mother was very young, and her little brother (my uncle) died just weeks later. It was in that tragic season that my great-grandmother pointed my mother to Jesus and the comfort only He can give.

Paul wrote Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Faith isn’t inherited, but it is shared. Timothy’s mother and grandmother shared their faith with him, and he believed.  

When we encourage those close to us to have hope in Jesus, we offer them a legacy of love. Through a simple note, my mother left evidence of my great-grandmother’s love for her Savior and her family. Oh, to share Him with those who come after us! 

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