A large sign at the Texas A&M University football stadium says “HOME OF THE 12TH MAN.” While each team is allowed eleven players on the field, the 12th Man is the presence of thousands of A&M students who remain standing during the entire game to cheer their team on. The tradition traces its roots to 1922 when the coach called a student from the stands to suit up and be ready to replace an injured player. Although he never entered the game, his willing presence on the sideline greatly encouraged the team.
Hebrews 11 describes heroes of the faith who faced great trials and remained loyal to God. Chapter 12 begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1)
We are not alone on our journey of faith. The great saints and ordinary people who have been faithful to the Lord encourage us by their example and also by their presence in heaven. They are a spiritual 12th Man standing with us while we are still on the field.
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:2), we are spurred on by all those who followed Him.
A young man I know has a habit of asking God for signs. That’s not necessarily bad, but his prayers tend to seek confirmation of his feelings. For instance, he’ll pray, “God, if You want me to do X, then You please do Y, and I’ll know it’s okay.”
This has created a dilemma. Because of the way he prays and the way he thinks God is answering, he feels that he should get back with his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she feels strongly that God doesn’t want that.
The religious leaders of Jesus’s day demanded a sign from Him to prove the validity of His claims (Matt. 16:1). They weren’t seeking God’s guidance; they were challenging His divine authority. Jesus replied, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign” (v. 4). The Lord’s strong response wasn’t a blanket statement to prevent anyone from seeking God’s guidance. Rather, Jesus was accusing them of ignoring the clear prophecies in Scripture that indicated He was the Messiah.
God wants us to seek His guidance in prayer (James 1:5). He also gives us the guidance of the Spirit (John 14:26) and His Word (Ps. 119:105). He provides us with mentors and wise leaders. And He’s given us the example of Jesus Himself.
It’s wise to ask God for clear direction, but He may not always give it in ways that we expect or want. Perhaps the larger point of prayer is that we learn more about God’s nature and develop a relationship with our Father.
“Today we’re going to play a game called Imitation,” our children’s minister told the kids gathered around him for the children’s sermon. “I’ll name something and you act out what it does. Ready? Chicken!” The kids flapped their arms, cackled, and crowed. Next it was elephant, then football player, and then ballerina. The last one was Jesus. While many of the children hesitated, one 6-year-old with a big smile on his face immediately threw his arms wide open in welcome. The congregation applauded.
How easily we forget that our calling is to be like Jesus in the everyday situations of life. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).
The apostle Paul commended the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica for the outward demonstration of their faith in difficult circumstances. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord,” Paul wrote. “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6-7).
It is the life of Jesus in us that encourages and enables us to walk through this world as He did—with the good news of God’s love and with arms open wide in welcome to all.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), an Italian artist, was known for his fiery temperament and unconventional technique. He used ordinary working people as models for his saints and was able to make viewers of his paintings feel they were a part of the scene. The Supper at Emmaus shows an innkeeper standing while Jesus and two of His followers are seated at a table when they recognize Him as the risen Lord (Luke 24:31). One disciple is pushing himself to a standing position while the other’s arms are outstretched and his hands open in astonishment.
Luke, who records these events in his gospel, tells us that the two men immediately returned to Jerusalem where they found the eleven disciples and others assembled together and saying, “ ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (vv. 33-35).
Oswald Chambers said, “Jesus rarely comes where we expect Him; He appears where we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical connections. The only way a worker can keep true to God is by being ready for the Lord’s surprise visits.”
Whatever road we are on today, may we be ready for Jesus to make Himself known to us in new and surprising ways.
I had been driving for almost half an hour when my daughter suddenly wailed from the backseat. When I asked, “What happened?” she said her brother had grabbed her arm. He claimed he had grabbed her arm because she had pinched him. She said she pinched him because he had said something mean.
Unfortunately, this pattern, which is common between children, can show up in adult relationships too. One person offends another, and the hurt person shoots back a verbal blow. The original offender retaliates with another insult. Before long, anger and cruel words have damaged the relationship.
The Bible says that “the words of the reckless pierce like swords,” and that “a harsh word stirs up anger” but “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 12:18; 15:1). And sometimes not answering at all is the best way to deal with mean or cruel words or comments.
Before Jesus’ crucifixion, the religious authorities tried to provoke Him with their words (Matt. 27:41-43). Yet, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate . . . . Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Jesus’ example and the Spirit’s help offer us a way to respond to people who offend us. Trusting the Lord, we don’t need to use words as weapons.
Joash must have been confused and frightened when he was told about the evil deeds of his grandmother Athaliah. She had murdered his brothers to usurp the power of the throne in Judah. But baby Joash had been safely hidden away by his aunt and uncle for 6 years (2 Chron. 22:10-12). As he grew, he enjoyed the love and instruction of his caregivers. When Joash was only 7 years old, he was secretly crowned king and his grandmother was overthrown (23:12-15).
The story is told that in the late 1800s a group of European pastors attended D. L. Moody’s Bible conference in Massachusetts. Following their custom, they put their shoes outside their room before they slept, expecting them to be cleaned by hotel workers. When Moody saw the shoes, he mentioned the need to others because he knew their custom. But he was met with silence. Moody collected all the shoes and cleaned them himself. A friend who made an unexpected visit to his room revealed what Moody had done. The word spread, and the next few nights others took turns doing the cleaning.
While waiting for an eye examination, I was struck by a statement I saw in the optometrist’s office: “Eighty percent of everything children learn in their first 12 years is through their eyes.” I began thinking of all that children visually process through reading, television, film, events, surroundings, and observing the behavior of others, especially their families. On this Father’s Day, we often think about the powerful influence of a dad.