The little girl moved joyfully and gracefully to the music of praise. She was the only one in the aisle but that didn’t keep her from spinning and waving her arms and lifting her feet to the music. Her mother, a smile on her lips, didn’t try to stop her.
My heart lifted as I watched, and I longed to join her—but didn’t. I’d long ago lost the unselfconscious expression of joy and wonder of my childhood. Even though we are meant to grow and mature and put childish ways behind us, we were never meant to lose the joy and wonder, especially in our relationship with God.
When Jesus lived on Earth, He welcomed little children to Him and often referred to them in His teaching (Matthew 11:25; 18:3; 21:16). On one occasion, He rebuked His disciples for attempting to keep parents from bringing their children to Him for a blessing, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14). Jesus was referring to the childlike characteristics that ready us to receive Christ—joy and wonder, but also simplicity, dependence, trust, and humility.
Childlike wonder and joy (and more) open our hearts to be more receptive to Him. He is waiting for us to run into His arms.
One of the pleasures of a trip to Europe is visiting the grand cathedrals that dot the landscape. They are breathtakingly beautiful as they soar toward the heavens. The architecture, art, and symbolism found in these amazing buildings present a spellbinding experience of wonder and magnificence.
As I thought about the fact that these structures were built to reflect God’s magnificence and His all-surpassing splendor, I wondered how we could possibly recapture in our hearts and minds a similar feeling of God’s grandeur and be reminded again of His greatness.
One way we can do that is to look beyond man’s grand, regal structures and contemplate the greatness of what God himself has created. Take one look at a starry night sky and think of God’s power as He spoke the universe into existence. Hold a newborn baby in your arms and thank God for the miracle of life itself. Look at the snow-covered mountains of Alaska or the majestic Atlantic Ocean teeming with millions of God-designed creatures and imagine the power that makes that ecosystem work.
Mankind is not wrong to reach for the sky with structures that are intended to point us to God. But our truest admiration should be reserved for God himself as we say to Him, “yours,
When Andrew Cheatle lost his cellphone at the beach, he thought it was gone forever. About a week later, however, fisherman Glen Kerley called him. He had pulled Cheatle’s phone, still functional after it dried, out of a 25-pound cod.
Life is full of odd stories, and we find more than a few of them in the Bible. One day tax collectors came to Peter demanding to know, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matt. 17:24). Jesus turned the situation into a teaching moment. He wanted Peter to understand His role as king. Taxes weren’t collected from the children of the king, and the Lord made it clear that neither He nor His children owed any temple tax (vv. 25–26).
Yet Jesus wanted to be careful not to “cause offense” (v. 27), so He told Peter to go fishing. (This is the odd part of the story.) Peter found a coin in the mouth of the first fish he caught.
What on earth is Jesus doing here? A better question is, “What in God’s kingdom is Jesus doing?” He is the rightful King—even when many do not recognize Him as such. When we accept His role as Lord in our lives, we become His children.
Life will still throw its various demands at us, but Jesus will provide for us. As former pastor David Pompo put it, “When we’re fishing for our Father, we can depend on Him for all we need.”
“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.
In the fable of the chicken and the pig, the two animals discuss opening a restaurant together. As they plan their menu, the chicken suggests they serve ham and eggs. The pig swiftly objects saying, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you would only be involved.”
Although the pig didn’t care to put himself on the platter, his understanding of commitment is instructive to me as I learn to better follow God with my whole heart.
To protect his kingdom, Asa, king of Judah, sought to break up a treaty between the kings of Israel and Aram. To accomplish this, he sent personal treasure along with “silver and gold out of the treasuries of the
But God’s prophet, Hanani, called Asa foolish for relying on human help instead of God who had delivered other enemies into their hands. Hanani asserted, “The eyes of the
As we face our own battles and challenges, let’s remember that God is our best ally. He strengthens us when we we’re willing to “serve up” a whole-hearted commitment to Him.
The first time I saw him, I cried. He looked like a perfect newborn asleep in his crib. But we knew he would never wake up. Not until he was in the arms of Jesus.
He clung to life for several months. Then his mother told us of his death in a heart-wrenching email. She wrote of “that deep, deep pain that groans inside you.” Then she said, “How deeply God carved His work of love into our hearts through that little life! What a powerful life it was!”
Powerful? How could she say that?
This family’s precious little boy showed them—and us—that we must depend on God for everything. Especially when things go horribly wrong! The hard yet comforting truth is that God meets us in our pain. He knows the grief of losing a Son.
In our deepest pain, we turn to the songs of David because he writes out of his own grief. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” he asked (Ps. 13:2). “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (v. 3). Yet David could give his biggest questions to God. “But I trust your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5).
Only God can bring ultimate significance to our most tragic events.
Before my husband and I surrendered our lives to Christ, we seriously considered divorce. But after committing to love and obey God, we recommitted to each other. We sought wise counsel and invited the Holy Spirit to transform us individually and as a couple. Our heavenly Father continues to help us develop healthy communication skills. He’s teaching us how to love and trust Him—and one another—no matter what happens.
Yet, even as we head toward celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary, I occasionally forget everything God has done in and through our trials. Sometimes, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of the unknown—experiencing unnecessary anxiety instead of relying on God’s track record.
In Deuteronomy 1, Moses affirmed the Lord’s reliability. He encouraged the Israelites to move forward in faith so they could enjoy their inheritance (vv. 1–21). But God’s people demanded details about what they’d be up against and what they’d receive, before committing to trust Him with their future (vv. 22–33).
Followers of Christ are not immune to succumbing to fear or anxiety. Worrying about what difficulties we may or may not encounter can keep us from depending on faith, and may even damage our relationships with God and others. But the Holy Spirit can help us create a trust tally of the Lord’s past faithfulness. He can empower us with courageous confidence in God’s trustworthiness yesterday, today, and forever.
“Will we see any snakes?”
Allan, a young boy in our neighborhood, asked that question as we started on a hike by the river near our home.
“We never have before,” I answered, “but we might! So let’s ask God to keep us safe.” We paused, prayed together, and kept walking.
Several minutes later my wife, Cari, suddenly took a quick step backward, narrowly avoiding a poisonous copperhead partially coiled on the path ahead. We waited as the snake left the trail, giving it a wide berth. Then we paused and thanked God nothing had happened. I believe that through Allan’s question, God had prepared us for the encounter, and our prayer was part of His providential care.
Our brush with danger that evening brings to mind the importance of David’s words: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chro. 16:11). This advice was part of a psalm celebrating the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. It recounts God’s faithfulness to His people in their struggles throughout history, reminding them to always praise Him and “cry out” to Him (v. 35).
What does it mean to “seek [God’s] face”? It means we turn our hearts toward Him in even the most mundane moments. Sometimes our prayers are answered differently than our asking, but God is faithful come what may. Our Good Shepherd will direct our paths and keeps us in His mercy, strength, and love, and we may declare our dependence on Him.
Jacob Davis was a tailor with a problem. It was the height of the Gold Rush in the 1800s American West and the gold miners’ work pants kept wearing out. His solution? Davis went to a local dry goods company owned by Levi Strauss, purchased tent cloth, and made work pants from that heavy, sturdy material—and blue jeans were born. Today, denim jeans in a variety of forms (including Levi’s) are among the most popular clothing items in the world, and all because tent material was given a new purpose.
Simon and his friends were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus arrived and called them to follow Him. He gave them a new purpose. No longer would they fish for fish. As Jesus told them, “Come, follow me, . . . and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17).
With this new purpose set for their lives, these men were taught and trained by Jesus so that, after His ascension, they could be used by God to capture the hearts of people with the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Today, we follow in their steps as we share the good news of Christ’s love and salvation.
May our lives both declare and exhibit this love that can change the lives, purposes, and eternal destinies of others.