It is pitch dark when Ah-pi starts her day. Others in the village will wake up soon to make their way to the rubber plantation. Harvesting latex is one of the main sources of income for people living in Hongzhuang village, China. To collect as much latex as possible, the trees must be tapped very early in the morning, before daybreak. Ah-pi will be among the rubber tappers, but first, she will spend time communing with God.
Ah-pi’s father, husband, and only son have passed away, and she—with her daughter-in-law—is providing for an elderly mother and two young grandsons. Her story reminds me of another widow in the Bible who trusted God.
The widow’s husband had died and left behind a huge debt (2 Kings 4:1). In her distress, she looked to God for help by turning to His servant Elisha. She believed that God cared and that He could do something about her situation. And God did. He provided miraculously for the dire needs of this widow (vv. 5–6). This same God also provided for Ah-pi—though less miraculously—through the toil of her hands, the produce from the ground, and gifts from His people.
Though life can make various demands on us, we can always draw strength from God. We can entrust our cares to Him, do all we can, and let Him amaze us with what He can do with our situation.
When my “chocolate” Labrador retriever puppy was three months old, I took him to the veterinarian’s office for his shots and checkup. As our vet carefully looked him over, she noticed a small white marking in his fur on his left hind paw. She smiled and said to him, “That’s where God held you when He dipped you in chocolate.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. But she had unintentionally made a meaningful point about the deep and personal interest God takes in His creation.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30 that “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” God is so great that He is able take infinite interest in the most intimate details of our lives. There is nothing so small that it escapes His notice, and there is no concern too trivial to bring before Him. He simply cares that much.
God not only created us; He sustains and keeps us through every moment. It’s sometimes said that “the devil is in the details.” But it’s better by far to understand that God is in them, watching over even the things that escape our notice. How comforting it is to know that our perfectly wise and caring heavenly Father holds us—along with all of creation—in His strong and loving hands.
“Where are you from?” We often use that question to get to know someone better. But for many of us, the answer is complicated. Sometimes we don’t want to share all the details.
In the book of Judges, Jephthah might not have wanted to answer that question at all. His half-brothers had chased him out of his hometown of Gilead for his “questionable” origins. “You are the son of another woman,” they declared (Judges 11:2). The text says starkly, “His mother was a prostitute” (v. 1).
But Jephthah was a natural leader, and when a hostile tribe picked a fight with Gilead, the people who had sent him packing suddenly wanted him back. “Be our commander,” they said (v. 6). Jephthah asked, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house?” (v. 7). After getting assurances that things would be different, he agreed to lead them. The Scripture tells us, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah” (v. 29). Through faith, he led them to a great victory. The New Testament mentions him in its list of heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:32).
He so often seems to choose the unlikeliest people to do His work, doesn’t He? It doesn’t matter where we’re from, how we got here, or what we’ve done. What matters is that we respond in faith to God’s love.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks, “How long is forever?” The White Rabbit responds, “Sometimes, just one second.” It sure felt that way when my brother David suddenly died. The days leading to his memorial dragged on, intensifying the sense of loss and grief we felt. Every second seemed to last forever.
Another David echoed this sentiment, singing, “How long, O
Into this heartache steps the presence and care of our heavenly Father. Like King David, we can honestly go to Him with our pain and loss, knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The psalmist discovered this as well, allowing his lament to move from a minor key to a major key singing, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5).
In our seemingly endless moments of struggle, His unfailing love promises to carry us through.
“God sent you to me tonight!”
Those were the parting words from the woman standing in front of me as we exited our flight to Chicago. She had sat across the aisle from me, where I learned she was headed home after several flights in a round-trip that day. “Do you mind if I ask why you had such a quick turnaround?” I inquired. She glanced downward: “I just put my daughter in rehab for drug abuse today.”
In the moments that followed I gently shared the story of my son’s struggle with heroin addiction and how Jesus had set him free. As she listened, a smile broke through her tears. After the plane landed we prayed together before parting, asking God to break her daughter’s chains.
Later that evening I thought of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
All around us are people who need to be encouraged with the comfort only God can give. He wants us to reach out to them with tenderhearted compassion, to share the love He has shared with us. May God send us to those who need His comfort today!
Some people like bitter chocolate and some prefer sweet. Ancient Mayans in Central America enjoyed chocolate as a beverage and seasoned it with chili peppers. They liked this “bitter water,” as they called it. Many years later it was introduced in Spain, but the Spaniards preferred chocolate sweet, so they added sugar and honey to counteract its natural bitterness.
Like chocolate, days can be bitter or sweet too. A seventeenth-century French monk named Brother Lawrence wrote, “If we knew how much [God] loves us, we would always be ready to receive equally . . . from His hand the sweet and the bitter.” Accept the sweet and the bitter equally? This is difficult! What is Brother Lawrence talking about? The key lies in God’s character. The psalmist said of God, “You are good, and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68).
Mayans also valued bitter chocolate for its healing and medicinal properties. Bitter days have value too. They make us aware of our weaknesses and they help us depend more on God. The psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (v. 71). Let us embrace life today, with its different flavors—reassured of God’s goodness. Let us say, “You have done many good things for me,
In the song “Look at Him,” Mexican composer Rubén Sotelo describes Jesus at the cross. He invites us to look at Jesus and be quiet, because there is really nothing to say before the type of love Jesus demonstrated at the cross. By faith we can imagine the scene described in the Gospels. We can imagine the cross and the blood, the nails, and the pain.
When Jesus breathed His last, those who “had gathered to witness this sight . . . beat their breasts and went away” (Luke 23:48). Others “stood at a distance, watching these things” (v. 49). They looked and were quiet. Only one spoke, a centurion, who said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (v. 47).
Songs and poems have been written to describe this great love. Many years before, Jeremiah wrote about Jerusalem’s pain after its devastation. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12). He was asking people to look and see; he thought there was no greater suffering than Jerusalem’s. However, has there been any suffering like Jesus’s suffering?
All of us are passing by the road of the cross. Will we look and see His love? This Easter, when words and poems are not enough to express our gratitude and describe God’s love, let us take a moment to ponder Jesus’s death; and in the quietness of our hearts, may we whisper to Him our deepest devotion.
On our wedding day, Martie and I gladly vowed to be faithful “in good times as well as in bad, in sickness as well as in health, for richer or for poorer.” In a way it may seem strange to include vows about the bleak reality of bad times, sickness, and poverty on a cheerful wedding day. But it underscores the fact that life often has “bad” times.
So what are we to do when we face life’s inevitable difficulties? Paul urges us on behalf of Christ to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As difficult as that may sound, there is good reason why God encourages us to embrace a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is grounded in the truth that our Lord “is good” and “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). He is present with us and strengthens us in the midst of trouble (Hebrews 13:5–6), and He lovingly uses our trials to grow our character into His likeness (Romans 5:3–4).
When life hits us with hard times, choosing to be grateful focuses our attention on the goodness of God and gives us the strength to make it through our struggles. With the psalmist, we can sing, “Give thanks to the
"What had I done?" It should have been one of the most exciting times of my life. Instead, it was one of the loneliest. I'd just gotten my first "real" job after college, in a city hundreds of miles from where I grew up. But the thrill of that big step quickly faded. I had a tiny apartment. No furniture. I didn't know the city. I didn't know anyone. The job was interesting, but the loneliness felt crushing.
One night, I sat at home with my back against the wall. I opened my Bible and stumbled into Psalm 16, where verse 11 promises God will fill us. "Lord," I prayed, "I thought this job was the right thing, but I feel so alone. Please fill me with a sense of Your nearness." I offered variants of that plaintive plea for weeks. Some nights, my sense of loneliness eased, and I had a deep experience of God's presence. Other nights, I still felt achingly isolated.
But as I returned to that verse, anchoring my heart in it night by night, God gradually deepened my faith. I experienced His faithfulness in a way I never had before. And I learned that my job was simply to pour out my heart to Him . . . and humbly await His faithful response, trusting His promise to fill us with His Spirit.