Category  |  Spiritual Transformation

God at Work

“How have you seen God at work lately?” I asked some friends. One replied, “I see him at work as I read the Scriptures each morning; I see him at work as he helps me face each new day; I see him at work when I know that he has been with me every step of the way—I realize how he has helped me to face challenges while giving me joy.” I love his answer because it reflects how through God’s Word and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God stays near to, and works in, those who love Him.

God working in His followers is a wonderful mystery that the writer to the Hebrews refers to as he draws his letter to a close in what’s known as a benediction: “. . . and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:21). With this conclusion, the writer reinforces the essential message of his letter—that God will equip His people to follow Him and that God will work in and through them for His glory.

The gift of God working in us can take us by surprise; perhaps we forgive someone who wrongs us or show patience to someone we find difficult. Our “God of peace” (v. 20) spreads His love and peace in and through us. How have you seen God at work lately?

On-the-Job Training

When my son’s teacher asked me to serve as a chaperone for their science camp, I hesitated. How could I be a role model when mistakes littered my past, when I still struggled, stumbled, and slipped into old bad habits? God helped me love and raise my son, but I often doubted He could use me to serve others.

Sometimes I still fail to recognize that God—the only perfect One, the only One who can change hearts and lives—transforms us over time. Then the Holy Spirit reminds me how Paul encouraged Timothy to embrace his on-the-job training, persevere in faith, and use the gifts God had given him (2 Timothy 1:6). Timothy could be courageous because God, his power source, would help him love and be disciplined as he continued to grow and serve those within his sphere of influence (v. 7).

Christ saves and empowers us to honor Him with our lives, not because we have special qualifications but because we’re each valuable members of His family (v. 9).

We can persevere with confidence when we know our role is to simply love God and others. Christ’s role is to save us and give us a purpose that extends beyond our small vision of the world. As we follow Jesus daily, He transforms us while using us to encourage others as we share His love and truth wherever He sends us.

Just Like My Father

My father’s dusty, heeled-over, cowboy boots rest on the floor of my study, daily reminders of the kind of man he was.

Among other things, he raised and trained cutting horses—equine athletes that move like quicksilver. I loved to watch him at work, marveling that he could stay astride.

As a boy, growing up, I wanted to be just like him. I’m in my eighties, and his boots are still too large for me to fill.

My father’s in heaven now, but I have another Father to emulate. I want to be just like Him—filled with His goodness, fragrant with His love. I’m not there and never will be in this life; His boots are much too large for me to fill.

But the apostle Peter said this: “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ . . . will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). He has the wisdom and power to do that, you know (v. 11).

Our lack of likeness to our heavenly Father will not last forever. God has called us to share the beauty of character that is His. In this life we reflect Him poorly, but in heaven our sin and sorrow will be no more and we’ll reflect Him more fully! This is the “true grace of God” (v. 12).

Outside In?

“Change: From the Inside Out or the Outside In?” the headline read, reflecting a popular trend today—the idea that outward changes like a makeover or better posture can be an easy way to change how we feel on the inside—and even change our lives.

It’s an appealing concept—who wouldn’t want improving our lives to be as easy as a new look? Many of us have learned the hard way that changing deep-rooted habits can seem nearly impossible. Focusing on simple external changes offers hope that there is a quicker path toward improving our lives.

But although such changes can improve our lives, Scripture invites us to seek a deeper transformation—one that is impossible on our own. In fact, in Galatians 3 Paul argued that even God’s law—a priceless gift that revealed His will—couldn’t heal the brokenness of God’s people (vv. 19–22). True healing and freedom required them to, through faith, be “clothed” in Christ (v. 27) through His Spirit (5:5). Sanctified and shaped through Him, they would find their true identity and worth—every believer equally an heir to all of God’s promises (3:28–29).

We could easily devote much energy to self-improvement techniques. But the deepest and most satisfying changes in our hearts come in knowing the love that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:17–19)—the love that changes everything. 

Ruth's Story

Ruth cannot tell her story without tears. In her mid-eighties and unable to get around much anymore, Ruth may not appear to be a central figure in our church’s life. She depends on others for rides, and because she lives alone she doesn’t have a huge circle of influence.

But when she tells us her story of salvation—as she does often—Ruth stands out as a remarkable example of God’s grace. Back when she was in her thirties, a friend invited her to go to a meeting one night. Ruth didn’t know she was going to hear a preacher. “I wouldn’t have gone if I knew,” she says. She already had “religion,” and it wasn’t doing her any good. But go she did. And she heard the good news about Jesus that night.

Now, more than fifty years later, she cries tears of joy when she talks of how Jesus transformed her life. That evening, she became a child of God. Her story never grows old.

It doesn’t matter if our story is similar to Ruth’s or not. What does matter is that we take the simple step of putting our faith in Jesus and His death and resurrection. The apostle Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

That’s what Ruth did. You can do that too. Jesus redeems, transforms, and gives us new life.

Reflecting God’s Love

I had the privilege of serving as my mom’s caregiver during her treatments at a live-in cancer care center. Even on her hardest days, she read Scripture and prayed for others before getting out of bed.

She spent time with Jesus daily, expressing her faith through her dependence on God, her kind deeds, and her desire to encourage and pray for others. Never realizing how much her smiling face glowed with the Lord’s loving grace, she shared God’s love with the people around her until the day He called her home to heaven.

After Moses spent forty days and forty nights communing with God (Ex. 34:28), he descended Mount Sinai. He had no idea his intimate connection with the Lord actually changed his appearance (v. 29). But the Israelites could tell Moses had spoken with the Lord (vv. 30-32). He continued meeting with God and influencing the lives of those around him (vv. 33-35).

We might not be able to see how our experience with God changes us over time. Our slow transformation will definitely not be as physically apparent as Moses’s beaming face. But as we spend time with God and surrender our lives to Him more and more each day, we can reflect His love. God can draw others closer to Him as the evidence of His presence shows in and through us.

What We Bring Back

John F. Burns spent forty years covering world events for The New York Times.  In an article written after his retirement in 2015, Burns recalled the words of a close friend and fellow journalist who was dying of cancer. “Never forget,” his colleague said, “It’s not how far you’ve traveled; it’s what you’ve brought back.”

Psalm 37 could be considered David’s list of what he “brought back” from his journey of life, from shepherd to soldier and king. The psalm is a series of couplets contrasting the wicked with the righteous, and affirming those who trust the Lord.

“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither” (vv. 1–2).

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (vv. 23–24).

“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).

 From our experiences in life, what has God taught us? How have we experienced His faithfulness and love? In what ways has the Lord’s love shaped our lives? 

 It’s not how far we’ve traveled in life, but what we’ve brought back that counts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Psalm 37:25

Unfinished Works

At his death, the great artist Michelangelo left many unfinished projects. But four of his sculptures were never meant to be completed. The Bearded Slave, the Atlas Slave, the Awakening Slave, and the Young Slave, though they appear unfinished, are just as Michelangelo intended them to be. The artist wanted to show what it might feel like to be forever enslaved.

Rather than sculpting figures in chains, Michelangelo made figures stuck in the very marble out of which they are carved. Bodies emerge from the stone, but not completely. Muscles flex, but the figures are never able to free themselves.

My empathy with the slave sculptures is immediate. Their plight is not unlike my struggle with sin. I am unable to free myself: like the sculptures I am stuck, “a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Rom 7:23). No matter how hard I try, I cannot change myself. But thanks be to God you and I will not remain unfinished works. We won’t be complete until heaven, but in the meantime as we welcome the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, He changes us. God promises to finish the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

Fifteen-Minute Challenge

Dr. Charles W. Eliot, longtime president of Harvard University, believed that ordinary people who read consistently from the world’s great literature for even a few minutes a day could gain a valuable education. In 1910, he compiled selections from books of history, science, philosophy, and fine art into fifty volumes called The Harvard Classics. Each set of books included Dr. Eliot’s Reading Guide titled “Fifteen Minutes A Day” containing recommended selections of eight to ten pages for each day of the year.

What if we spent fifteen minutes a day reading God’s Word? We could say with the psalmist, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Ps. 119:36–37).

Fifteen minutes a day adds up to ninety-one hours a year. But for whatever amount of time we decide to read the Bible each day, consistency is the secret and the key ingredient is not perfection but persistence. If we miss a day or a week, we can start reading again. As the Holy Spirit teaches us, God’s Word moves from our minds to our hearts, then to our hands and feet—taking us beyond education to transformation.

“Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end” (v. 33).