Horrified by his students’ poor writing habits, renowned author and college professor David Foster Wallace considered how he might improve their skills. That’s when a startling question confronted him. The professor had to ask himself why a student would listen to someone “as smug, narrow, self-righteous, [and] condescending” as he was. He knew he had a problem with pride.
That professor could and did change, but he could never become one of his students. Yet when Jesus came to Earth, He showed us what humility looks like by becoming one of us. Stepping across all kinds of boundaries, Jesus made Himself at home everywhere by serving, teaching, and doing the will of His Father.
Even as He was being crucified, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for His executioners (Luke 23:34). Straining for every anguished breath, He still granted eternal life to a criminal dying with Him (vv. 42–43).
Why would Jesus do that? Why would He serve people like us to the very end? The apostle John gets to the point. Out of love! He writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Then he drives that point home. “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).
Jesus showed us that His love eradicates our pride, our smugness, our condescension. And He did it in the most powerful way possible. He gave His life.
I’ve always been impressed by the solemn, magnificent simplicity of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. The carefully choreographed event is a moving tribute to soldiers whose names—and sacrifice—are “known but to God.” Equally moving are the private moments of steady pacing when the crowds are gone: back and forth, hour after hour, day by day, in even the worst weather.
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Washington, DC, and the guards were told they could seek shelter during the worst of the storm. Surprising almost no one, the guards refused! They unselfishly stood their post to honor their fallen comrades even in the face of a hurricane.
Underlying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-6, I believe, is His desire for us to live with an unrelenting, selfless devotion to Him. The Bible calls us to good deeds and holy living, but these are to be acts of worship and obedience (vv.4-6), not orchestrated acts for self-glorification (v.2). The apostle Paul endorses this whole-life faithfulness when he pleads with us to make our bodies “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1).
May our private and public moments speak of our devotion and wholehearted commitment to You, Lord.
The view from my airplane window was striking: a narrow ribbon of ripening wheat fields and orchards wending between two barren mountains. Running through the valley was a river. Life-giving water, without which there would be no fruit.
Just as a bountiful harvest depends on a source of clean water, the quality of the “fruit” in my life—my words, actions, and attitude—depends on my spiritual nourishment. The psalmist describes this in Psalm 1: the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord…is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season” (v. 1-3). And Paul writes in Galatians 5 that those who walk in step with the Spirit are marked by “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (v. 22-23).
Sometimes my perspective on my circumstances turns sour, or my actions and words become persistently unkind. There is no good fruit, and I realize I haven’t spent time being quiet before the words of my God. But when the rhythm of my days is rooted in reliance on Him, I bear good fruit. Patience and gentleness characterize my interactions with others; it’s easier to choose gratitude over complaint.
The God who has revealed Himself to us is our source of strength, wisdom, joy, understanding, and peace (Ps. 119: 28, 98, 111, 144, 165). As we steep our souls in the words that point us to Him, the work of God’s Spirit will be evident in our lives.
In some cultures a younger person is expected to permit his elder to enter a room first. In others, the most important or highest ranking individual enters first. No matter what our traditions, there are times when we find it difficult to allow someone to choose first on important matters, especially when that privilege rightfully belongs to us.
Abram (later called Abraham) and his nephew Lot had so many flocks, herds, and tents that the land could not support both of them as they traveled together. To avoid conflict, Abram suggested they part company and generously gave Lot first choice of the land. His nephew took the fertile Jordan Valley, leaving Abram with the less desirable land.
Abram did not insist on his rights as the elder in this situation but trusted his future to God. “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me . . . . Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left” (Gen. 13:8–9). Lot’s choice eventually led to dire consequences for his entire family (see Gen. 19).
Today, as we face choices of many kinds, we can trust our Father to guide us in His way. He has promised to care for us. He will always give us what we need.
Self-control is probably one of the hardest things to master. How often have we been defeated by a bad habit, a lousy attitude, or a wrong mindset? We make promises to improve. We ask someone to hold us accountable. But deep inside, we know that we don’t have the will or the ability to change. We can talk, we can plan, we can read self-help books, but we still find it difficult to overcome and control many of the things that are inside us!
Thankfully, God knows our weakness, and He also knows the remedy! The Bible says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The only way to gain self-control is by allowing the Holy Spirit to control us.
In other words, our key focus is not effort but surrender—to live moment by moment submissively trusting in the Lord rather than in self. Paul says this is what it means to “walk by the Spirit” (vv. 16, 25).
Are you ready for a change? You can change, for God is in you. As you surrender control to Him, He will help you bear the fruit of His likeness.
Joop Zoetemelk is known as the Netherlands’ most successful cyclist. But that’s because he never gave up. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times—placing second five times before winning in 1980. That’s perseverance!
Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory.
The apostle Paul persevered despite persecution and affliction (2 Tim. 3:10-11). He viewed life with realism, recognizing that as followers of Christ we will suffer persecution (vv. 12–13), but he instructed Timothy to place his faith in God and the encouragement of the Scriptures (vv. 14-15). Doing so would help him face discouragement and endure with hope. At the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).
We too can allow the Scriptures to strengthen us to press on in the race marked out for us. For our God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God and will reward those who faithfully finish the race (v. 8).
During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.
“I’m not surprised you lead retreats,” said an acquaintance in my exercise class. “You have a good aura.” I was jolted but pleased by her comment, because I realized that what she saw as an “aura” in me, I understood to be the peace of Christ. As we follow Jesus, He gives us the peace that transcends understanding (Phil. 4:7) and radiates from within—though we may not even be aware of it.
Jesus promised His followers this peace when, after their last supper together, He prepared them for His death and resurrection. He told them that though they would have trouble in the world, the Father would send them the Spirit of truth to live with them and be in them (John 14:17). The Spirit would teach them, bringing to mind His truths; the Spirit would comfort them, bestowing on them His peace. Though soon they would face trials—including fierce opposition from the religious leaders and seeing Jesus executed—He told them not to be afraid. The Holy Spirit’s presence would never leave them.
Although as God’s children we experience hardship, we too have His Spirit living within and flowing out of us. God’s peace can be His witness to everyone we meet—whether at a local market, at school or work, or in the gym. Amy Boucher Pye
In 1952 Florence Chadwick attempted to swim 26 miles from the coast of California to Catalina Island. After 15 hours, a heavy fog began to block her view, she became disoriented, and she gave up. To her chagrin, Chadwick learned that she had quit just 1 mile short of her destination.
Two months later Chadwick tried a second time to swim to Catalina Island from the coast. Again a thick fog settled in, but this time she reached her destination, becoming the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel. Chadwick said she kept an image of the shoreline in her mind even when she couldn’t see it.
When the problems of life cloud our vision, we have an opportunity to learn to see our goal with the eyes of faith. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews urges us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2). When we feel like quitting, this is our signal to remember not only what Jesus suffered for us but what He now helps us to endure—until the day we see Him face to face.