When Conner and Sarah Smith moved five miles up the road, their cat S’mores expressed his displeasure by running away. One day Sarah saw a current photo of their old farmhouse on social media. There was S’mores in the picture!
Happily the Smiths went to retrieve him. S’mores ran away again. Guess where he went. This time, the family that had purchased their house agreed to keep S’mores too. The Smiths couldn’t stop the inevitable; S’mores would always return “home.”
Nehemiah served in a prestigious position in the king’s court in Susa, but his heart was elsewhere. He had just heard news of the sad condition of “the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:3). And so he prayed, e had H“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, . . . ‘if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ ” (1:8–9).
Home is where the heart is, they say. In Nehemiah’s case, longing for home was more than being tied to the land. It was communion with God that he most desired. Jerusalem was “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
The dissatisfaction we sense deep down is actually a longing for God. We’re yearning to be home with Him.
For fourteen years, the Mars rover Opportunity faithfully communicated with the people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After it landed in 2004, it traversed twenty-eight miles of the Martian surface, took thousands of images, and analyzed many materials. But in 2018 communication between Opportunity and scientists ended when a major dust storm coated its solar panels, causing the rover to lose power.
Is it possible that we can allow “dust” to block our communication with Someone outside of our world? When it comes to prayer—communicating with God—there are certain things that can get in the way.
Scripture says that sin can block our relationship with God. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Jesus instructs, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Our communication with God can also be hindered by doubt and relationship problems (James 1:5–7; 1 Peter 3:7).
Opportunity’s blockage of communication seems to be permanent. But our prayers don’t have to be blocked. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God lovingly draws us to restored communication with Him. As we confess our sins and turn to Him, by God’s grace we experience the greatest communication the universe has ever known: one-to-one prayer between us and our holy God.
Aubrey bought a fleece-lined coat for her aging father, but he died before he could wear it. So she tucked a note of encouragement with a $20 bill into the pocket and donated the jacket to charity.
Ninety miles away, unable to endure his family’s dysfunction any longer, nineteen-year-old Kelly left his house without grabbing a coat. He knew of only one place to turn—the home of his grandmother who prayed for him. Hours later he stepped off a bus and into grandma’s arms. Shielding him from the winter wind, she said, “We’ve got to get you a coat!” At the mission store, Kelly tried on a coat he liked. Slipping his hands into the pockets he found an envelope—with a $20 bill and Aubrey’s note.
Jacob fled his dysfunctional family in fear for his life (Genesis 27:41–45). When he stopped for the night, God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go,” God told him (28:15). Jacob vowed, “If God will . . . give me food to eat and clothes to wear . . . , then the L
Jacob made a rudimentary altar and named the spot “God’s house” (v. 22). Kelly keeps Aubrey’s note and that $20 wherever he goes. Each serves as a reminder that no matter where we run, God is there.
After meeting the Queen of England at a ball in Scotland, Sylvia and her husband received a message that the royal family would like to visit them for tea. Sylvia started cleaning and prepping, nervous about hosting the royal guests. Before they were due to arrive, she went outside to pick some flowers for the table, her heart racing. Then she sensed God remind her that He’s the King of Kings and that He’s with her every day. Immediately she felt peaceful and thought, “After all, it’s only the Queen!”
Sylvia is right. As the apostle Paul noted, God is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15) and those who follow Him are “children of God” (Galatians 3:26). When we belong to Christ (v. 27), we are heirs of Abraham (v. 29). We no longer are bound by division—such as that of race, social class, or gender—for we’re “all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). We’re children of the King.
Although Sylvia and her husband had a marvelous meal with the Queen, I don’t anticipate receiving an invitation from her anytime soon. But I love the reminder that the highest King of all is with me every moment. And that those who believe in Jesus wholeheartedly (v. 27) can live in unity, knowing they are God’s children.
How could holding onto this truth shape the way we live today?
In April 2019, a suburban neighborhood in Victorville, California, became buried in tumbleweeds. High winds pushed the rolling thistles into the development from the adjacent Mojave Desert where the plant grows. At maturity, the pesky weed can grow to up to six feet in height—a formidable size when it releases itself from its roots to “tumble” with the wind to scatter its seeds.
Tumbleweeds are what I picture when I read Jeremiah’s description of a person “whose heart turns away from the
Tumbleweeds and trees both have roots. Tumbleweeds, however, don’t stay connected to their life-source, causing them to dry out and die. Trees, on the other hand, remain connected to their roots, enabling them to flourish and thrive, anchored to that which will sustain them in times of difficulty. When we hold fast to God, drawing strength and encouragement from the wisdom found in the Bible and talking to Him in prayer, we too can experience the life-giving, life-sustaining nourishment He provides.
Imagine life without mobile phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth devices, or microwave ovens. That’s the way it is in the little town of Green Bank, West Virginia, known as “the quietest town in America.” It’s also the location of the Green Bank Observatory, the world’s largest steerable radio telescope. The telescope needs “quiet” to “listen” to naturally occurring radio waves emitted by the movement of pulsars and galaxies in deep space. It has a surface area larger than a football field and stands in the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area established to prevent electronic interference to the telescope’s extreme sensitivity.
This intentional quiet enables scientists to hear “the music of the spheres.” It also reminds me of our need to quiet ourselves enough to listen to the One who created the universe. God communicated to a wayward and distracted people through the prophet Isaiah, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (Isaiah 55:3). God promises His faithful love to all who will seek Him and turn to Him for forgiveness.
We listen intentionally to God by turning from our distractions long enough to meet Him in Scripture and in prayer. God isn’t distant. He longs for us to make time for Him so He can be the priority of our daily lives and then for eternity.
Living near cattle ranches as he did, humorist Michael Yaconelli noticed how cows were prone to wander while grazing. A cow would keep moving, always looking for the fabled “greener pastures.” Near the edge of the property, the cow might discover some cool fresh grass under a shade tree. Just beyond a broken-down part of the fence was a tasty clump of foliage. Then the cow might push far beyond the fence and out to the road. It had slowly “nibbled” its way into being lost.
Cows aren’t alone in their roaming problem. It’s likely that people have the biggest tendency of all to stray.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons God compares us to sheep in the Bible. It can be easy to meander and “nibble our way” through reckless compromises and foolish decisions, never noticing how far away from the truth we’ve strayed.
Jesus told the Pharisees the story of a lost sheep. The sheep was of such value to the shepherd that he left his other sheep behind, while he searched for the wandering one. And when he found the one that had strayed, He celebrated! (Luke 15:1–7).
Such is the happiness of God over those who turn back to Him. Jesus said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” (v. 6). God has sent us a Savior to rescue us and bring us home.
More than a million young people take part in The International Letter Writing Competition each year. In 2018, the theme of the competition was “Imagine you are a letter traveling through time. What message do you want to convey to your readers?”
In the Bible, we have a collection of letters that — thanks to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit — have made their way through time to us. As the Christian church grew, Jesus’s disciples wrote to churches across Europe and Asia Minor to help the people understand their new life in Christ; many of those letters were collected in the Bible we read today.
What did these letter-writers want to convey to readers? John explains, in his first letter, that he’s writing about “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” — he’s writing about his encounter with the living Christ (1 John 1:1). He writes so that his readers may “have fellowship” with him, and with “the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (v. 3). When we have fellowship together, he writes, our joy will be complete (v. 4). The letters in the Bible draw us into a fellowship that is beyond time — fellowship with the eternal God.
When the schoolyear began, fourteen-year-old C.J. would hop off the bus every afternoon and dance down his driveway. His mom recorded and shared videos of C.J.’s afterschool boogie time. He danced because he enjoyed life and “making people happy” with every move. One day, two garbage collectors took time out of their busy work schedule to stomp, spin, and sway with the young boy who inspires others to dance with him. This trio demonstrates the power of sincere and infectious joy.
The writer of Psalm 149 describes the original source of enduring and unconditional joy—God. The psalmist encourages God’s people to join together and “sing to the
Our adoring Father created us and sustains the universe. He delights in us just because we are His beloved children. He designed us, knows us, and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. What an honor! Our loving and living God is our reason for everlasting joy. We can rejoice in the gift of His constant presence and be grateful for every day our Maker has given us.