Our valley in Idaho can be very cold in the winter. Clouds and fog roll in and blanket the ground, trapping frigid air under warmer layers above. But you can get above the valley. There’s a road nearby that winds up the flank of Shafer Butte, a 7,500-foot mountain that rises out of our valley. A few minutes of driving and you break out of the fog and emerge into the warmth and brilliance of a sunlit day. You can look down on the clouds that shroud the valley below and see it from a different point of view.
Life is like that at times. Circumstances seem to surround us with a fog that sunlight cannot penetrate. Yet faith is the way we get above the valley—the means by which we “set [our] hearts on things above” (Col. 3:1). As we do, the Lord enables us to rise above our circumstances and find courage and calmness for the day. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).
We can climb out of our misery and gloom. We can sit for a time on the mountainside and through Christ who gives us strength (v. 13) we can gain a different perspective.
Madaleno is a bricklayer. From Monday to Thursday he builds walls and repairs roofs. He is quiet, reliable, and hardworking. Then from Friday to Sunday he goes up to the mountains to teach the Word of God. Madaleno speaks Nahuatl (a Mexican dialect), so he can easily communicate the good news of Jesus to the people in that region. At age 70, he still works with his hands building houses, but he also works to build the family of God.
His life has been threatened several times. He has slept under the stars and faced death from car accidents and falls. He has been kicked out of towns. But he thinks that God has called him to do what he does, and he serves happily. Believing that people need to know the Lord, he relies on God for the strength he needs.
Madaleno’s faithfulness reminds me of the faithfulness of Caleb and Joshua, two of the men Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites (Num. 13; Josh. 14:6-13). Their companions were afraid of the people who lived there, but Caleb and Joshua trusted in God and believed He would help them conquer the land.
The work entrusted to us may be different than Madaleno’s or Caleb’s and Joshua’s. But our confidence can be the same. In reaching out to others, we rely not on ourselves but on the strength of our God.
The neighbors probably didn’t know what to think as they looked out their windows at me one wintry day. I was standing in the driveway with a garden shovel clutched in my hands, whacking wildly and angrily at a clump of ice that had formed beneath a corner gutter. With each smack, I was uttering prayers that were variations on one theme: “I can’t do this.” “You can’t expect me to do this.” “I don’t have the strength to do this.” As a caregiver, with a long list of responsibilities to handle, I now had this ice to deal with, and I had had enough!
My anger was wrapped around a bundle of lies: “I deserve better than this.” “God isn’t enough after all.” “Nobody cares anyway.” But when we choose to cling to our anger, we become mired in the trap of bitterness, never moving forward. And the only cure for anger is truth.
The truth is that God does not give us what we deserve; He gives us mercy instead. “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5). The truth is that God is more than enough, despite what we see. The truth is that His strength is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9). Yet before we can find such reassurance, we may need to step back, lay down the shovel of our own efforts, and take Jesus’ hand that’s extended to us in mercy and grace.
God is big enough to listen to our anger and loving enough to show us, in His time, the path forward.
When our daughter was 15, she ran away. She was gone more than 3 weeks. Those were the longest 3 weeks of our lives. We looked everywhere for her and sought help from law enforcement and friends. During those desperate days, my wife and I learned the importance of waiting on God in prayer. We had come to the end of our strength and resources. We had to rely on God.
It was on a Father’s Day that we found her. We were in a restaurant parking lot, on our way to dinner, when the phone rang. A waitress at another restaurant had spotted her. Our daughter was only three blocks away. We soon had her home, safe and sound.
We have to wait on God when we pray. We may not know how or when He will answer, but we can put our hearts constantly before Him in prayer. Sometimes the answers to our prayers don’t come when we would hope. Things may even go from bad to worse. But we have to persevere, keep believing, and keep asking.
Waiting is never easy, but the end result, whatever it is, will be worth it. David put it this way: “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Ps. 9:10).
Keep seeking. Keep trusting. Keep asking. Keep praying.
A man worried constantly about everything. Then one day his friends heard him whistling happily and looking noticeably relaxed. “What happened?” they asked him in astonishment.
He said, “I’m paying a man to do my worrying for me.”
“How much do you pay him?” they asked.
“Two thousand dollars a week,” he replied.
“Wow! How can you afford that?”
“I can’t,” he said, “but that’s his worry.”
While this humorous way to handle stress doesn’t work in real life, as God’s children we can turn our worries over to Someone who has everything perfectly under control even—especially—when we feel it is not.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God brings out the stars and calls them all by name (40:25-26). Because of “his great power and mighty strength” not one of them is missing (v. 26). And just as God knows the stars by name, He knows us individually and personally. We are each under His watchful care (v. 27).
If we are inclined to worry, we can turn that worry over to the Lord. He is never too weary or too tired to pay attention to us. He has all wisdom and all power, and He loves to use it on our behalf. The Holy One who directs the stars has His loving arms around us.
During the Bosnian War (1992–1996), more than 10,000 people—civilians and soldiers—were killed in the city of Sarajevo as gunfire and mortar rounds rained down from the surrounding hills. Steven Galloway’s gripping novel The Cellist of Sarajevo unfolds there, during the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare. The book follows three fictional characters who must decide if they will become completely self-absorbed in their struggle to survive, or will somehow rise above their numbing circumstances to consider others during a time of great adversity.
From a prison in Rome, Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, saying: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Paul cited Jesus as the great example of a selfless focus on others: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, . . . made Himself of no reputation . . . humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (vv. 5-8). Rather than seeking sympathy from others, Jesus gave all He had to rescue us from the tyranny of sin.
Our continuing challenge as followers of Jesus is to see through His eyes and respond to the needs of others in His strength, even in our own difficult times.
Having served in World War I, C. S. Lewis was no stranger to the stresses of military service. In a public address during the Second World War, he eloquently described the hardships a soldier has to face: “All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity . . . is collected together in the life of the soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”
The apostle Paul used the analogy of a soldier suffering hardship to describe the trials a believer may experience in service to Christ. Paul—now at the end of his life—had faithfully endured suffering for the sake of the gospel. He encourages Timothy to do the same: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3).
Serving Christ requires perseverance. We may encounter obstacles of poor health, troubled relationships, or difficult circumstances. But as a good soldier we press on—with God’s strength—because we serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sacrificed Himself for us!
When I was a boy, I delivered newspapers to about 140 homes on two streets that were connected by a cemetery. Since I delivered a morning newspaper, I had to be out at 3:00 a.m. walking through that cemetery in the darkness. Sometimes I would be so frightened that I would actually run! I was afraid until I was standing safely under a streetlight on the other side. The scary darkness was dispelled by the light.
The psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness” (Ps. 91:5-6). Neither terrors of night nor evil in the darkness need to drive us to fear. We have a God who sent His Son, the Light of the World (John 8:12).
In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to live for Him.
More than 10,000 evangelists and Christian leaders sat in a giant auditorium in Amsterdam in 1986 listening to world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham. I sat among them, listening as he narrated some of his experiences. Then, to my surprise, he said, “Let me tell you: every time I stand before the congregation of God’s people to preach, I tremble and my knees wobble!”