When our oldest child became a teenager, my wife and I gave her a journal that we’d been writing in since her birth. We’d recorded her likes and dislikes, quirks and memorable one-liners. At some point the entries became more like letters, describing what we see in her and how we see God at work in her. When we gave it to her on her thirteenth birthday, she was mesmerized. She’d been given the gift of knowing a crucial part of the origins of her identity.
In blessing something as common as bread, Jesus was revealing its identity. What it—along with all creation—was made to reflect: God’s glory. I believe Jesus was also pointing to the future of the material world. All creation will one day be filled with the glory of God. So in blessing bread (Matthew 26:26), Jesus was pointing to the origin and the destiny of creation (Romans 8:21-22).
Maybe the “beginning” of your story feels messed up. Maybe you don’t think there’s much of a future. But there’s a bigger story. It’s a story of a God who made you on purpose and for a purpose, who took pleasure in you. It’s a story of God who came to rescue you (v. 28); a God who put His Spirit in you to renew you and recover your identity. It’s a story of a God who wants to bless you.
Jackson dreamed of becoming a US Navy Seal from early childhood—an ambition that led to years of physical discipline and self-sacrifice. He eventually faced grueling tests of strength and endurance including what’s referred to by trainees as “hell week.”
Jackson was physically unable to complete the exhaustive training, and reluctantly rang a bell to inform the commander and other trainees of his choice to leave the program. For most, this would feel like failure. But in spite of the extreme disappointment, Jackson was later able to see his military failure as preparation for his life’s work.
The apostle Peter experienced his own form of failure. He boldly proclaimed that he would remain loyal to Jesus even to prison or death (Luke 22:33). Yet later he wept bitterly after he denied that he knew Jesus (Luke 22:61–62). But God had plans beyond his failure. Prior to Peter’s denial, Jesus informed him, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18; see also Luke 22:31–32).
Are you struggling with a failure causing you to feel unworthy or unqualified to move on? Don’t let the ringing bell of failure cause you to miss God’s greater purposes for you.
For twelve years, Chirpy, a seagull, has made daily visits to a man who had helped him heal from a broken leg. John wooed Chirpy to himself with dog biscuits and was then able to nurse him back to health. Though Chirpy only resides in Instow Beach in Devon, England, between September and March, he and John Sumner find each other easily—Chirpy flies straight to him when he arrives at the beach each day, though he doesn’t approach any other human. It’s an uncommon relationship, to be sure.
John and Chirpy’s bond reminds me of another uncommon relationship between man and bird. When Elijah, one of God’s prophets, was sent into the wilderness to “hide in the Kerith Ravine” during a time of drought, God said he was to drink from the brook, and He’d send ravens to supply him with food (1 Kings 17:4). Despite the difficult circumstances and surroundings, Elijah would have his needs for food and water met. Ravens were unlikely caterers—naturally feeding on unseemly meals themselves—yet they brought Elijah wholesome food.
It may not surprise us that a man would help a bird, but when birds provide for a man with “bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening,” it can only be explained by God’s power and care (v. 6). Like Elijah, we too can trust in His provision for us.
In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton was charged with the murders of two restaurant managers. It was a set up—he’d been miles away when the crimes happened—but he was found guilty and sentenced to death. At the trial, Ray forgave those who lied about him, adding that he still had joy despite this injustice. “After my death, I’m going to heaven,” he said. “Where are you going?”
Life on death row was hard for Ray. Prison lights flickered whenever the electric chair was used for others, a grim reminder of what lay ahead. Ray passed a lie detector test but the results were ignored, one of many injustices he faced getting his case reheard.
Finally, on Good Friday 2015, Ray’s conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court. He’d been on death row for nearly thirty years.
Ray Hinton’s life is a testament to the reality of God. Because of his faith in Jesus, Ray had a heavenly hope beyond his trials (1 Peter 1:3–5) and experienced supernatural joy in the face of horrendous injustice (v. 8). “This joy that I have,” Ray said after his release, “they couldn’t ever take that away in prison.” Such joy proved his faith to be genuine (vv. 7–8).
Death row joy? That’s hard to fabricate. It points us to a God who exists even though He’s unseen and who is ready to sustain us in our own ordeals.
Though Mary loved Jesus—life was hard, real hard. Two sons preceded her in death as did two grandsons, both victims of shootings. And Mary herself suffered a crippling stroke that left her paralyzed on one side. Yet, as soon as she was able she made her way to church services where it was not uncommon for her—with fractured speech—to express praise to the Lord with words like, “My soul loves Jesus, bless His name!”
Long before Mary expressed her praise to God, David penned the words of Psalm 63. The heading of the psalm notes that David wrote it “when he was in the Desert of Judah.” Though in a less than desirable, even desperate situation, he didn’t despair because he hoped in God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you . . . in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (v. 1).
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a place of difficulty, without clear direction or adequate resources. Uncomfortable situations can confuse us but they need not derail us when we cling to the One who loves us (v. 3), satisfies us (v. 5), and helps us (v. 7), and whose right hand upholds us (v. 8). Because God’s love is better than life, like Mary and David, we can express our satisfaction with lips that praise and honor God (vv. 3, 5).
You might know what it’s like. The bills keep arriving after a medical procedure—from the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, the lab, the facility. Jason experienced this after an emergency surgery. He complained, “We owe thousands of dollars after insurance. If only we can get these bills paid, then life will be good and I’ll be content! I feel like I’m playing the arcade game Whack-a-Mole”—where plastic moles pop up from their holes, and the player hits one after another with a mallet.
Life can come at us like that at times. The apostle Paul certainly could relate. He said, “I know what it is to be in need,” yet he’d “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12). His secret? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v. 13). When I was going through a particularly discontented time, I read this on a greeting card: “If it isn’t here, where is it?” That was a powerful reminder that if I’m not content now, what makes me think I’d be if only I were in another situation?
How do we learn to rest in Christ? Maybe it’s a matter of focus. Of enjoying and being thankful for the good. Of learning more about a faithful Father. Of growing in trust and patience. Of recognizing that life is about God and not me. Of asking Him to teach me contentment in Him.
Ever caught a dragon? I hadn’t until my son convinced me to download a trending game on my phone. Producing a digital map mirroring the real world, the game allows you to catch colorful creatures near you.
Unlike most mobile games, this one requires movement. Anywhere you go is part of the game’s playing field. The result? I’m doing a lot more walking! Anytime my son and I play, we strive to maximize every opportunity to nab the critters that pop up around us.
It’s easy to focus on, even obsess over, a game that’s crafted to captivate users. But as I was playing with my son recently, I was convicted with this question: Am I this intentional about maximizing the spiritual opportunities around me?
Paul knew the need to be alert to God’s work around us. In Colossians 4, he asked for prayer for an opportunity to share the gospel (v. 3). Then he challenged, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” Paul didn’t want the Colossians to miss any chance of influencing others toward Christ. But doing so would require truly seeing them and their needs, then engaging in ways “full of grace” (v. 6).
In our world, far more things vie for our time and attention than a game’s imaginary dragons. But God invites us to navigate a real-world adventure, every day seeking opportunities to point to Him.
We met every Thursday after he lost his wife in a car accident. Sometimes he came with questions to which no answers exist, sometimes he came with memories he wanted to relive. Over time, he accepted that even though the accident was a result of the brokenness in our world, God could work in the midst of it. A few years later, he taught a class at our church about grief and how to lament well. Soon, he became our go-to guide for people experiencing loss. Sometimes it’s when we don’t feel like we have anything to offer that God takes our “not enough” and makes it “more than enough.”
Jesus told His disciples to give the people something to eat. They’d protested that there was nothing to give; Jesus multiplied their meager supplies and then turned back to the disciples and gave them the bread, as if to say, “I meant it: You give them something to eat!” Christ will do the miraculous, but He often chooses to involve us.
Jesus says to us, “Place who you are and what you have in My hands; Your broken life. Your story. Your frailty and your failure, your pain and your suffering. Put it in My hands. You’ll be surprised what I can do with it.” Jesus knows that out of our emptiness, He can bring fullness. Out of our weakness, He can reveal His strength.
Jane’s plans to become a speech therapist ended when an internship revealed the job was too emotionally challenging for her. Then she was given the opportunity to write for a magazine. She’d never seen herself as a writer, but years later she found herself advocating for needy families through her writing. “Looking back, I can see why God changed my plans,” she says. “He had a bigger plan for me.”
The Bible has many stories of disrupted plans. On his second missionary journey, Paul had sought to bring the gospel into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus stopped him (Acts 16:6–7). This must have seemed mystifying: Why was Jesus disrupting plans that were in line with a God-given mission? The answer came in a dream one night: Macedonia needed him even more. There, Paul would plant the first church in Europe. No wonder Solomon observed, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the
It’s sensible to make plans. A well-known adage goes, “Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” But God may disrupt our plans with His own. Our challenge is to listen and obey, knowing we can trust God. If we submit to His will, we’ll find ourselves fitting into His purpose for our lives.
As we continue to make plans, we can add a new twist: Plan to listen. Listen to God’s plan.