I love birds, which is why I bought six caged birds and carried them home to our daughter Alice, who began to care for them daily. Then one of the birds fell ill and died. We wondered if the birds would be more likely to thrive if they were not caged. So we freed the surviving five and observed them fly away in jubilation.
Alice then pointed out, “Do you realize, Daddy, that it was the death of one bird that caused us to free the rest?”
Isn’t that what the Lord Jesus did for us? Just as one man’s sin (Adam’s) brought condemnation to the world, so one Man’s righteousness (Jesus’s) brought salvation to those who believe (Rom. 5:12–19). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
John makes it more practical when he says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). This won’t likely mean literal death, but as we align our lives with Jesus’s example of sacrificial love, we find that we are “laying down our lives.” For instance, we might choose to deprive ourselves of material goods in order to share them with others (v. 17) or make time to be with someone who needs comfort and companionship.
Who do you need to sacrifice for today?
Careless driving, rising tempers, and use of foul language among some taxi and minibus drivers are a constant source of traffic fights in our city of Accra, Ghana. But one traffic incident I witnessed took a different turn. A bus was almost hit by a careless taxi driver. I expected the bus driver to get angry and yell at the taxi driver, but he didn't. Instead, the bus driver relaxed his stern face and smiled broadly at the guilty-looking taxi driver. And the smile worked wonders. With a raised hand, the taxi driver apologized, smiled back, and moved away, the tension diffused.
A smile has a fascinating effect on our brain chemistry. Researchers have found that "when we smile it releases brain chemicals called endorphins which have an actual physiological relaxing effect.” Not only can a smile diffuse a tense situation, but it can also diffuse tension within us. Our emotions affect us as well as others. The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Eph. 4:31-32).
When anger or tension or bitterness threatens our relationship with the Lord and with others, it helps to remember that "a cheerful heart is good medicine" for our own joy and well-being.
I enjoy watching relay races. The physical strength, speed, skill, and endurance required of the athletes amaze me. But one crucial point of the race always gets my special attention and makes me anxious. It is the moment the baton is passed to the next athlete. One moment of delay, one slip, and the race could be lost.
In a sense, Christians are in a relay race, carrying the baton of faith and the knowledge of the Lord and of His Word. And the Bible tells us about our need to pass this baton from one generation to another. In Psalm 78, Asaph declares: “I will utter . . . things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us . . . . We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the
Moses said something similar to the Israelites: “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deut. 4:9).
For generations to come, we are called to lovingly and courageously do whatever we can to pass along “the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
I needed an underground water tank and knew precisely how I wanted it constructed, so I gave clear instructions to the builder. The next day when I inspected the project, I was annoyed when I realized that he had failed to carry out my instructions. He had changed the plan and therefore the effect. The excuse he gave was as irritating as his failure to follow my directives.
As I watched him redo the concrete work, and as my frustration diminished, a guilty conviction swept over me: How many times have I needed to redo things in my life in obedience to the Lord?
Like the ancient Israelites who frequently failed to do what God asked them to do, we too often go our own way. Yet obedience is a desired result of our deepening relationship with God. Moses told the people, "Be careful to do what the
This is still the kind of surrender of our hearts that leads to our well-being. As the Spirit helps us to obey, it is refreshing to remember that He “works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
While delivering a well-publicized speech, a respected leader and statesman got the attention of his nation by declaring that most of his country’s honorable Members of Parliament (MPs) were quite dishonorable. Citing lifestyles of corruption, pompous attitudes, unsavory language, and other vices, he rebuked the MPs and urged them to reform. As expected, his comments didn’t go well with them and they dispatched counter-criticisms his way.
We may not be public officials in positions of leadership, but we who follow Christ are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). As such, our Lord calls us to lifestyles that honor Him.
The disciple Peter had some practical advice on how to do this. He urged us to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (v.11). Although he didn’t use the word honorable, he was calling us to behavior worthy of Christ.
As the apostle Paul phrased it in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Indeed, these are the characteristics of behavior that honor our Lord.
I was only four years old as I lay by my father on a floor mat on a hot summer night. (My mother, with a baby, had her own room at the time.) This was in northern Ghana where the climate is mostly dry. Sweat covered my body and the heat parched my throat. I felt so thirsty I shook my father awake. In the middle of that dry night, he rose up and poured water from a jar for me to quench my thirst. Throughout my life, as he did that night, he exemplified the image of a caring father. He provided what I needed.
Some people may not have a good father figure in their lives. But we all have a Father who is strong and ever-present and who does not disappoint us. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). He told us that when our daily needs confront us—food, clothing, shelter, protection (v. 31)—“your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8).
We have a Father who is always there. Night or day, whenever the going gets tough, we can trust that He will never abandon us. He has promised to care for us, and He knows better than we do what we need.
I like watching birds, an activity I developed while growing up in a forest village in Ghana where there were many different species of birds. In the city suburb where I now live, I recently observed the behavior of some crows that interested me. Flying toward a tree that had shed most of its leaves, the crows decided to take a rest. But instead of settling on the sturdy branches, they lighted on the dry and weak limbs that quickly gave way. They flapped their way out of danger—only to repeat the useless effort. Apparently their bird-sense didn't tell them that the solid branches were more trustworthy and secure resting places.
How about us? Where do we place our trust? David observes in Psalm 20:7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses represent material and human assets. While these represent things that are useful in daily life, they don’t give us security in times of trouble. If we place our trust in things or possessions or wealth, we will find that they eventually give way beneath us, as the branches gave way beneath the crows.
Those who trust in their chariots and horses can be “brought to their knees and fall,” but those who trust in God will “rise up and stand firm” (20:8).
A women’s prayer group in my country holds regular monthly prayer sessions for Ghana and other African countries. When asked why they pray so incessantly for the nations, their leader Gifty Dadzie remarked, “Look around, listen to and watch the news. Our nations are hurting: war, disaster, diseases, and violence threaten to overshadow God’s love for humanity and His blessing upon us. We believe God intervenes in the affairs of nations, so we praise Him for His blessings and cry for His intervention.”
The Bible reveals that God indeed intervenes in the affairs of nations (2 Chron. 7:14). And when God intervenes, He uses ordinary people. We may not be assigned huge tasks, but we can play our part to help bring about peace and the righteousness that exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34). We can do that through prayer. The apostle Paul wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1–2).
As the psalmist exhorted the ancient Israelites to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), so may we pray for the peace and healing of our nations. When we pray in humility, turn from wickedness, and seek God, He hears us.
At the end of one school semester, my wife and I picked up our daughter from her school 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. On our way back home we detoured to a nearby beach resort for snacks. While enjoying our time there, we watched the boats at the seashore. Usually they are anchored to prevent them from drifting away, but I noticed one boat drifting unhindered among the others—slowly and steadily making its way out to sea.
As we drove home, I reflected on the timely caution given to believers in the book of Hebrews: "We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away" (Heb. 2:1). We have good reason to stay close. The author of Hebrews says that while the Mosaic law was reliable and needed to be obeyed, the message of the Son of God is far superior. Our salvation is “so great” in Jesus that He shouldn’t be ignored.
Drifting in our relationship with God is hardly noticeable at first; it happens gradually. However, spending time talking with Him in prayer and reading His Word, confessing our wrongs to Him, and interacting with other followers of Jesus can help us stay anchored in Him. As we connect with the Lord regularly, He will be faithful to sustain us, and we can avoid drifting away.