The actor Diane Kruger was offered a role that would make her a household name. But it required her to play a young wife and mother experiencing the loss of her husband and child, and she had never personally suffered loss to such a degree. She didn’t know if she could be believable. But she accepted, and in order to prepare, she began attending support meetings for people walking through the valley of extreme grief.
Initially she offered suggestions and thoughts when those in the group shared their stories. She, like most of us, wanted to be helpful. But gradually she stopped talking, and simply started listening. It was only then she began truly learning to walk a mile in their shoes. And her realization came by using her ears.
Jeremiah’s indictment against the people was that they refused to use their “ears” to hear the Lord’s voice. The prophet did not mince words, calling them “foolish and senseless people” (5: 21). God is constantly at work in our lives communicating words of love, instruction, encouragement, and caution. The Father’s desire is that you and I learn and mature, and we have each been given the tools, such as ears, to do so. The question then is, will we use them to hear the heart of our Father?
On a winter day, my children begged to go sledding. The temperature hovered near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Snowflakes raced by our windows. I thought it over and said yes, but asked them to bundle up, stay together, and come inside after fifteen minutes.
Out of love, I created those rules so my children could play freely without suffering frostbite. I think the author of Psalm 119 recognized the same good intent in God as he penned two consecutive verses that might seem contradictory: “I will always obey your law” and “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (vv. 44–45). How is it that the psalmist associated freedom with a spiritually law-abiding life?
When a college class went on a cultural field trip, the instructor almost didn’t recognize one of his star pupils. In the classroom she had concealed six-inch heels beneath her pant legs. But in her walking boots she was less than five feet tall. “My heels are how I want to be,” she laughed. “But my boots are how I really am.”
Thankfully, our physical appearance doesn’t define who we are. It’s our heart that matters. Jesus had strong words for those masters of appearances—the super-religious “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” They asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating, as their religious traditions dictated (Matthew 15:1–2). Jesus asked, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (v. 3). Then He pointed out how they had invented a legal loophole to keep their wealth instead of caring for their parents (vv. 4–6), thus dishonoring them and violating the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12).
If we obsess over appearances while looking for loopholes in God’s clear commands, we’re violating the spirit of His law. Jesus said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” and the like (Matthew 15:19). Only God, through the righteousness of His Son Jesus, can give us a clean heart.
William Carey was a sickly boy, born to a humble family nearby Northampton, England. His future did not look too bright. But God had plans for him. Against all odds, he moved to India, where he brought incredible social reforms and translated the Bible in several Indian languages. He loved God and people, and accomplished many things for God.
David, son of Jesse, was an ordinary young man, the youngest in his family. He was seemingly an insignificant shepherd on the hills of Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:11–12). Yet God saw David’s heart and had a plan for him. King Saul had been rejected by God for disobedience. While the prophet Samuel mourned Saul’s choices, God called Samuel to anoint a different king, one of Jesse’s sons.
When Samuel saw the handsome, tall Eliab, he naturally thought, “surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (v. 6). However, God’s strategy to select a king was much different than Samuel’s. In fact, God said no to each of Jesse’s sons, except the youngest one. Selecting David as king was definitely not a strategic move from God’s part, or so it seemed at first glance. What would a young shepherd have to offer his community, let alone his country?
How comforting to know that the Lord knows our hearts and has His plans for us.
In the sky over our house, three fighter jets scream through the sky—flying in formation so close together they appear to be one. “Wow,” I say to my husband Dan. “Impressive,” he agrees. We live not far from an Air Force Base and it’s not unusual to see such sights.
Every time these jets fly over, however, I have the same question: how can they fly so close together and not lose control? One obvious reason, I learned, is humility. Trusting that the lead pilot is traveling at precisely the correct speed and trajectory, the wing pilots surrender any desire to switch directions or question their leader’s path. Instead, they get in formation and closely follow. The result? A more powerful team.
It’s no different for followers of Christ. Says Jesus: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
His path was one of self-denial and suffering, which can be hard to follow. But to be His effective disciples, we too are invited to put aside selfish desires and pick up spiritual burdens daily—serving others first instead of ourselves, for example—as we closely follow Him.
It’s quite a sight, this humbling close walk with God. Following His lead, and staying so close, we can appear with Christ as one. Then others won’t see us, they’ll see Him. There’s a simple word for what that looks like: “Wow!”
My neighbor Tim has a figurine on his dashboard of a “wild thing” from Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.
Not long ago Tim was following me through traffic and made some abrupt moves to keep up. When we arrived, I asked, “Was that the ‘wild thing’ driving?”
The following Sunday I forgot my sermon notes at home. I “flew” out of the church to retrieve them, passing Tim along the way. When we met later, he joked, “Was that the wild thing driving?” We laughed, but his point hit home—I should have paid attention to the speed limit.
When the Bible describes what it means to live in a relationship with God, it encourages us to “offer every part of [ourselves]” to Him (Romans 6:13). I took Tim’s response to me that day as a gentle reminder from God to yield my “lead foot,” because I am to give all of myself to Him out of love.
The question of “who’s driving?” applies to all of life. Do we let the “wild things” of our old sin nature drive us—like worry, fear, or self-will—or do we yield to God’s loving Spirit and the grace that helps us grow?
Giving in to God is good for us. Scripture says that God’s wisdom takes us down “pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Better to follow where He leads.
I have a beautiful autumn photograph of a young man on horseback in the Colorado mountains as he contemplates which trail ahead to follow. It reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” In it, Frost ponders two pathways that lie before him. Both are equally inviting, but he doubts he will return to this place again, and he must choose one. Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), the Lord told His listeners, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
On our journey through life, we face many choices about which road to travel. Many pathways seem promising and attractive but only one is the pathway of life. Jesus calls us to travel the road of discipleship and obedience to God’s Word—to follow Him instead of the crowd.
As we ponder the road ahead, may God give us wisdom and courage to follow His way—the road of life. It will make all the difference for us and those we love!
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).
“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.