Keeping Close

My mile-long walk home from dropping off my daughter at her school gives me the opportunity to memorize some verses from the Bible—if I’m intentional about doing so. When I take those minutes to turn over God’s Word in my mind, I often find them coming back to me later in the day, bringing me comfort and wisdom.

When Moses prepared the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, he urged them to hold close to God’s commands and decrees (Deuteronomy 6:1–2). Wanting them to flourish, he said they should turn these instructions over in their minds and discuss them with their children (vv. 6–7). He even said to tie them to their wrists and bind them to their foreheads (v. 8). He didn’t want them to forget God’s instructions to live as people who honored the Lord and enjoyed His blessings.

How might you consider God’s words today? One idea is to write out a verse from Scripture, and every time you wash your hands or take a drink, read the words and turn them over in your mind. Or before you go to sleep, consider a short passage from the Bible as the last act of the day. Many are the ways of keeping God’s word close to our hearts!

Breaking the Chains

We found our visit to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, deeply moving, for it sits on the site of what was formerly the largest slave market in East Africa. The designers of this cathedral wanted to show through a physical symbol how the gospel breaks the chains of slavery. No longer would the location be a place of evil deeds and horrible atrocities, but of God’s embodied grace.

Those who built the cathedral wanted to express how Jesus’s death on the cross provides freedom from sin—that which the apostle Paul speaks of in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). Here the word redemption points to the Old Testament’s notion of the marketplace, with someone buying back a person or item. Jesus buys back a person from a life of slavery to sin and wrongdoing.

In Paul’s opening words in this letter (vv. 3–14), he bubbles over with joy at the thought of his freedom in Christ. He points, in layer after layer of praise, to God’s work of grace for us through Jesus’s death, which sets us free from the cords of sin. No longer do we need to be slaves to sin, for we are set free to live for God and His glory.

Hurry Not

“Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” When two friends repeated that adage by the wise Dallas Willard to me, I knew I needed to consider it. Where was I spinning my wheels, wasting time and energy? More important, where was I rushing ahead and not looking to God for guidance and help? In the weeks and months that followed, I remembered those words and reoriented myself back to the Lord and His wisdom. I reminded myself to trust in Him, rather than leaning on my own ways.

After all, rushing around frantically seems to be the opposite of the “perfect peace” the prophet Isaiah speaks of. The Lord gives this gift to “those whose minds are steadfast,” because they trust in Him (v. 3). And He is worthy of being trusted today, tomorrow, and forever, for “the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (v. 4). Trusting God with our minds fixed on Him is the antidote to a hurried life.

How about us? Do we sense that we’re hurried or even hasty? Maybe, in contrast, we often experience a sense of peace. Or perhaps we’re somewhere in between the two extremes.

Wherever we may be, I pray today that we’ll be able to put aside any hurry as we trust the Lord, who will never fail us and who gives us His peace.

The King’s Crown

We sat around the table, each person adding a toothpick to the foam disc before us. At our evening meal in the weeks leading up to Easter we created a crown of thorns—with each toothpick signifying something we had done that day for which we were sorry and for which Christ had paid the penalty. The exercise brought home to us, night after night, how through our wrongdoing we were guilty and how we needed a Savior. And how Jesus freed us through His death on the cross.

The crown of thorns that Jesus was made to wear was part of a cruel game the Roman soldiers played before He was crucified. They also dressed Him in a royal robe and gave Him a staff as a king’s scepter, which they then used to beat Him. They mocked Him, calling Him “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:29), not realizing that their actions would be remembered thousands of years later. This was no ordinary king. He was the King of Kings whose death, followed by His resurrection, gives us eternal life.

On Easter morning, we celebrated the gift of forgiveness and new life by replacing the toothpicks with flowers. What joy we felt, knowing that God had erased our sins and given us freedom and life forever in Him!

Basin of Love

One day in physics class many years ago, our teacher asked us to tell him—without turning around—what color the back wall of the classroom was. None of us could answer, for we hadn’t noticed.

Sometimes we miss or overlook the “stuff” of life simply because we can’t take it all in. And sometimes we don’t see what’s been there all along.

It was like that for me as I recently read again the account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. The story is a familiar one, for it is often read during Passion Week. That our Savior and King would stoop to cleanse the feet of His disciples awes us. In Jesus’s day, even Jewish servants were spared this task because it was seen as beneath them. But what I hadn’t noticed before was that Jesus, who was both man and God, washed the feet of Judas. Even though He knew Judas would betray Him, as we see in John 13:11, Jesus still humbled Himself and washed Judas’s feet.

Love poured out in a basin of water—love that He shared even with the one who would betray Him. As we ponder the events of this week leading up to the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection, may we too be given the gift of humility so that we can extend Jesus’s love to our friends and any enemies.

The Release of Fear

Our bodies react to our feelings of dread and fear. A weight in the pit of our stomachs, along with our hearts pounding as we gulp for breath, signal our sense of anxiety. Our physical nature keeps us from ignoring these feelings of unease.

The disciples felt shockwaves of fear one night after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people. The Lord had sent them ahead to Bethsaida so He could be alone to pray. During the night, they were rowing against the wind when suddenly they saw Him walking on the water. Thinking He was a ghost, they were terrified (Mark 6:49-50).

But Jesus reassured them, telling them not to be afraid and to take courage. As He entered their vessel, the wind died down and they made it to the shore. I imagine that their feelings of dread calmed as they embraced the peace He bestowed.

When we’re feeling breathless with anxiety, we can rest assured in Jesus’s power. Whether He calms our waves or strengthens us to face them, He will give us the gift of His peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And as He releases us from our fears, our spirits and our bodies can return to a state of rest.

The Last Word

One day during a university philosophy class, a student made some inflammatory remarks about the professor’s views. To the surprise of the other students, the teacher thanked him and moved on to another comment. When he was asked later why he didn’t respond to the student, he said, “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”

This teacher loved and honored God, and he wanted to embody a humble spirit as he reflected this love. His words remind me of another Teacher—this one from long ago, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Although not addressing how to handle an angry person, he said that when we approach the Lord we should guard our steps and “go near to listen” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) rather than being quick with our mouths and hasty in our hearts (v. 2). By doing so we acknowledge that God is the Lord and we are those whom He has created (v. 2).

How do you approach God? If you sense that your attitude could use some adjustment, why not spend some time considering the majesty and greatness of the Lord? When we ponder His unending wisdom, power, and presence, we can feel awed by His overflowing love for us. With this posture of humility, we too need not to have the last word.

The Power of Prayer

One day, when I was deeply concerned about the welfare of one close to me, I found encouragement in part of the Old Testament story of Samuel, a wise leader of the Israelites. As I read how Samuel interceded for God’s people as they faced trouble, I strengthened my resolve to pray for the one I loved.

The Israelites faced the threat of the Philistines, who had previously defeated them when God’s people didn’t trust in Him (see 1 Samuel 4). After repenting of their sins, they heard that the Philistines were about to attack. This time, however, they asked Samuel to continue praying for them (7:8), and the Lord answered clearly by throwing their enemy into confusion (v. 10). Though the Philistines may have been mightier than the Israelites, the Lord was the strongest of them all.

When we ache over the challenges facing those we love, and fear the situation won’t change, we may be tempted to believe that the Lord will not act. But we should never underestimate the power of prayer, for our loving God hears our pleas. We don’t know how He will move in response to our petitions, but we know that as our Father He longs for us to embrace His love and to trust in His faithfulness.

Do you have someone you can pray for today?

God with Us

“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left . . .” These hymn lyrics, written by the fifth-century Celtic Christian St. Patrick, echo in my mind when I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth. They feel like a warm embrace, reminding me that I’m never alone.

Matthew’s account tells us that God dwelling with His people is at the heart of Christmas. Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14), Matthew points to the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy—Jesus, the One born by the power of the Holy Spirit to be God with us. This truth is so central that Matthew begins and ends his gospel with it, concluding with Jesus’s words to His disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

St. Patrick’s lyrics remind me that Christ is with believers always through His Spirit living within. When I’m nervous or afraid, I can hold fast to His promises that He will never leave me. When I can’t fall asleep, I can ask Him to give me His peace. When I’m celebrating and filled with joy, I can thank Him for His gracious work in my life.

Jesus, Immanuel—God with us.

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