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.
As the cabbie drove us to London’s Heathrow Airport, he told us his story. He had come alone to the United Kingdom at age fifteen, seeking to escape war and deprivation. Now, eleven years later, he has a family of his own and is able to provide for them in ways unavailable in his native land. But he laments that he’s still separated from his parents and siblings. He told us that he has had a hard journey that won’t be complete until he’s reunited with his family.
Being separated from our loved ones in this life is hard, but losing a loved one in death is much harder and creates a sense of loss that won’t be made right until we’re reunited with them. When the new believers at Thessalonica wondered about such losses, Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He explained that as believers in Jesus, we can live in expectation of a wonderful reunion—together forever in the presence of Christ (v. 17).
Few experiences mark us so deeply as the separations we endure, but in Jesus we have hope of being reunited. And in the midst of grief and loss we can find the comfort (v. 18) we need in that enduring promise.
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.
In the novella Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy, main characters Sergey and Masha meet when Masha is young and impressionable. Sergey is an older, well-traveled businessman who understands the world beyond the rural setting where Masha lives. Over time, the two fall in love and marry.
They settle in the countryside, but Masha becomes bored with her surroundings. Sergey, who adores her, arranges a trip to St. Petersburg. There, Masha’s beauty and charm bring her instant popularity. Just as the couple is about to return home, a prince arrives in town, wanting to meet her. Sergey knows he can force Masha to leave with him, but he lets her make the decision. She chooses to stay, and her betrayal breaks his heart.
Like Sergey, God will never force us to be faithful to Him. Because He loves us, he lets us choose for or against Him. Our first choice for Him happens when we receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice for our sin (1 John 4:9–10). After that, we have a lifetime of decisions to make.
Will we choose faithfulness to God as His Spirit guides us, or let the world entice us? David’s life wasn’t perfect, but he often wrote about keeping “the ways of the Lord” and the good outcomes that came from doing so (Psalm 18:21–24). When our choices honor God, we can experience the blessing David described: to the faithful, God shows himself faithful.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. As the story is told, he complained that no one really paid attention to what was said. So, he decided to experiment at a reception. To everyone who passed down the line and shook his hand, he said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. God bless you, sir.” It was not until the end of the line, greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Do you ever wonder if people are really listening? Or worse, do you fear that God isn’t listening? We can tell if people are listening based on their responses or eye contact. But how do we know if God is listening? Should we rely on feelings? Or see if God answers our prayers?
After seventy years of exile in Babylon, God promised to bring His people back to Jerusalem and secure their future (Jeremiah 29:10–11). When they called upon Him, He heard them (v. 12). They knew that God heard their prayers because He promised to listen. And the same is true for us (1 John 5:14). We don’t need to rely on feelings or wait for a sign to know that God listens to us. He’s promised to listen, and He always keeps His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
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.
What do you imagine dinosaurs looked like when they were alive? Big teeth? Scaly skin? Long tails? Artist Karen Carr recreates these extinct creatures in large murals. One of her panoramas is over twenty feet tall and sixty feet long. Because of its size, it required a crew of experts to install it in sections where it resides in the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.
It would be hard to stand in front of this mural without feeling dwarfed by the dinosaurs. I get a similar sensation when I read God’s description of the powerful animal called “Behemoth” (Job 40:15). This big guy munched grass like an ox and had a tail the size of a tree trunk. His bones were like iron pipes. He lumbered through the hills grazing, stopping occasionally to relax at the local swamp. When floodwaters surged, Behemoth never raised an eyebrow.
No one could tame this incredible creature—except its maker (v. 19). God reminded Job of this truth during a time when Job’s problems had cast ominous shadows over his life. Grief, bewilderment, and frustration filled his field of vision until he began to question God. But God’s response helped Job see the real size of things. God was bigger than all his issues, and powerful enough to handle problems that Job could not resolve on his own. In the end, Job conceded, “I know that You can do all things” (42:2).
In a 2017 World Cup qualifying match that pitted the US against Trinidad and Tobago, the Soca Warriors shocked the world when they beat the US men’s national team, a team ranked fifty-six places higher. The 2-1 upset eliminated the US team from the 2018 World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago’s victory was so unexpected in part because the United States’ population and resources dwarfed those of the small Caribbean nation. But those seemingly insurmountable advantages weren’t enough to defeat the passionate Soca Warriors.
The story of Gideon and the Midianites features a similar upset, one between a small group of fighters and a large army. The Israelite army actually had more than 30,000 fighters, but the Lord whittled the army down to just three hundred warriors so the nation would learn that their success was dependent on God—not the size of their army, the amount of money in their treasury, or the skill of their leaders (Judges 7:1–8).
It can be tempting to put our trust and confidence in things we can see or measure, but that’s not the way of faith. Though it’s often difficult, when we are willing to depend on God, to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:1), we can go into situations, even when we feel overwhelmed and unqualified, with courage and confidence. His presence and power can do amazing things in and through us.
When my friend Marge met Tami at a Bible study meeting, she noticed that they seemed to have little in common. But Marge befriended her, and she learned a valuable lesson from her new friend.
Tami had never been to a Bible study, and she was having a hard time understanding something the other women in the study talked about: that God communicated with them—something she’d never experienced.
She so desired to hear from God that she took action. Later, she told Marge. “I set aside an old wooden chair, and every time I study my Bible, I ask Jesus to come sit in it.” Then Tami explained that whenever a verse stood out to her, she would write out the verse in chalk on the chair. It’s become her special “Jesus chair,” and she’s filled it up with God’s messages to her directly from the Bible.
Marge says, “[The Jesus Chair] has changed her life. She’s growing spiritually because Scripture is becoming personal.”
While speaking to Jewish believers, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). Let’s hold to His teaching, whether it means writing His words on a chair, memorizing them, or seeking to put them into action. The truth and wisdom of Christ’s messages help us grow in Him and set us free.