John F. Burns spent forty years covering world events for The New York Times. In an article written after his retirement in 2015, Burns recalled the words of a close friend and fellow journalist who was dying of cancer. “Never forget,” his colleague said, “It’s not how far you’ve traveled; it’s what you’ve brought back.”
Psalm 37 could be considered David’s list of what he “brought back” from his journey of life, from shepherd to soldier and king. The psalm is a series of couplets contrasting the wicked with the righteous, and affirming those who trust the Lord.
“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither” (vv. 1–2).
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (v. 25).
From our experiences in life, what has God taught us? How have we experienced His faithfulness and love? In what ways has the Lord’s love shaped our lives?
It’s not how far we’ve traveled in life, but what we’ve brought back that counts.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Psalm 37:25
The universe is astonishingly grand. Right now the moon is spinning around us at nearly 2,300 miles an hour. Our Earth is spinning around the sun at 66,000 miles an hour. Our sun is one of 200 billion other stars and trillions more planets in our galaxy, and that galaxy is just one of 100 billion others hurtling through space. Astounding!
In comparison to this vast cosmos, our little Earth is no bigger than a pebble, and our individual lives no greater than a grain of sand. Yet according to Scripture, the God of the galaxies attends to each microscopic one of us in intimate detail. He saw us before we existed (Ps. 139:13–16); He watches us as we go about our days and listens for our every thought (vv. 1–6).
It can be hard to believe this sometimes. This tiny “pebble” has big problems like war and famine, and we can question God’s care in times of personal suffering. But when King David wrote Psalm 139 he was in the midst of crisis himself (vv. 19–20). And when Jesus said God counts each hair on our heads (Matt. 10:30), he was living in an age of crucifixion. Biblical talk of God’s caring attention isn’t a naïve wish. It is real-world truth.
The One who keeps the galaxies spinning knows us intimately. That can help us get through the worst of times.
We worked patiently to help our son heal and adjust to his new life with our family. Trauma from his early days in an orphanage was fueling some negative behaviors. While I had enormous compassion for the hardships he experienced in his early days, I felt myself begin to withdraw from him emotionally because of those behaviors. Ashamed, I shared my struggle with his therapist. Her gentle reply hit home: “He needs you to go first . . . to show him he’s worthy of love before he’ll be able to act like it.”
John pushes the recipients of his letter to an incredible depth of love, citing God’s love as both the source and the reason for loving one another (1 John 4:7, 11). I admit I often fail to show such love to others, whether strangers, friends, or my own children. Yet John’s words spark in me renewed desire and ability to do so: God went first. He sent His Son to demonstrate the fullness of His love for each of us. I’m so thankful He doesn’t respond as we all are prone to do by withdrawing His heart from us.
Though our sinful actions don’t invite God’s love, He is unwavering in offering it to us (Rom. 5:8). His “go first” love compels us to love one another in response to, and as a reflection of, that love.
As a young man, my dad was traveling with a group of friends to an out-of-town sporting event when the tires of their car slipped on the rain-soaked roads. They had an accident—a bad accident. One of his friends was paralyzed and another was killed. My dad was declared dead and taken to the morgue. His shocked and grief-stricken parents came to identify him. But my dad revived from what turned out to be a deep coma. Their mourning turned to joy.
In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul reminds us that apart from Christ we are “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (v. 1). But because of his great love for us, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (vv. 4-5). Through Christ we have been brought from death to life.
So in a sense, we all owe our life to the Father in heaven. Through His great love, He has made it possible for those of us who were dead in sin to have life and purpose through His Son.
A friend and his wife, now in their early nineties and married for sixty-six years, wrote their family history for their children, grandchildren, and generations to come. The final chapter, “A Letter from Mom and Dad,” contains important life-lessons they’ve learned. One caused me to pause and take inventory of my own life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship with Jesus Christ. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” (Matt. 11:28–29).
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’s invitation in this passage begins, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? . . . Walk with me and work with me. . . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
When I think that serving God is all up to me, I’ve begun working for Him instead of walking with Him. There is a vital difference. If I’m not walking with Christ, my spirit becomes dry and brittle. People are annoyances, not fellow humans created in God’s image. Nothing seems right.
When I sense that I’m practicing religion instead of enjoying a relationship with Jesus, it’s time to lay the burden down and walk with Him in His “unforced rhythms of grace.”
When my husband and I go for nature walks, we bring our cameras and take close-ups of the plants at our feet, which are like microcosms of the world. What amazing variety and beauty we see, even in the fungi that spring up overnight and dot the woods with splashes of bright orange, red, and yellow!
The snapshots of life…
Our experiences of loss and disappointment may leave us feeling angry, guilty, and confused. Whether our choices have closed some doors that will never reopen or, through no fault of our own, tragedy has invaded our lives, the result is often what Oswald Chambers called “the unfathomable sadness of ‘the might have been.’” We may try to suppress the painful memory, but discover we can’t.
Chambers reminds us that the Lord is still active in our lives. “Never be afraid when God brings back the past,” he said. “Let memory have its way. It is a minister of God with its rebuke and chastisement and sorrow. God will turn the ‘might have been’ into a wonderful culture (place of growth) for the future.”
In Old Testament days when God sent the people of Israel into exile in Babylon, He told them to serve Him in that foreign land and grow in faith until He brought them back to their home. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the
Instead of ignoring or being trapped by events of the past, God urged them to focus on Him and look ahead. The Lord’s forgiveness can transform the memory of our sorrow into confidence in His everlasting love.
It’s almost impossible for us to get through a day without being snubbed, ignored, or put down in some way. Sometimes we even do it to ourselves.
David’s enemies were talking smack—bullying, threatening, pummeling him with insults. His sense of self-worth and well being had plummeted (Psalm 4:1–2). He asked for relief “from my distress.”
Then David remembered, “Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself” (v. 3). Various English versions try to capture the full essence of David’s bold statement by translating “faithful servant” as “godly.” The Hebrew word here, esed, literally refers to God’s covenant love and might well be rendered “those whom God will love forever and ever and ever.”
Here’s what we too must remember: We are loved forever, set apart in a special way, as dear to God as His own Son. He has called us to be His children for all eternity.
Instead of despairing, we can remind ourselves of the love we freely receive from our Father. We are His dearly beloved children. The end is not despair but peace and joy (vv. 7–8). He never gives up on us, and He never ever stops loving us.
Commuters on a Canadian Metro train witnessed a heart-moving conclusion to a tense moment. They watched as a 70-year old woman gently reached out and offered her hand to a young man whose loud voice and disturbing words were scaring other passengers. The lady’s kindness calmed the man who sank to the floor of the train with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thanks, Grandma,” stood up, and walked away. The woman later admitted to being afraid. But she said, “I’m a mother and he needed someone to touch.” While better judgment might have given her reason to keep her distance, she took a risk of love.
Jesus understands such compassion. He didn’t side with the fears of unnerved onlookers when a desperate man, full of leprosy, showed up begging to be healed. Neither was He helpless as other religious leaders were—men who could only have condemned the man for bringing his leprosy into the village (Lev. 13:45-46). Instead, Jesus reached out to someone who probably hadn’t been touched by anyone for years, and healed him.
Thankfully, for that man—and for us, Jesus came to offer the touch of His hand and heart to those who needed from Him—then and now—what no law could ever do.