My Facebook friends often post endearing videos of unlikely animal friendships, such as a recent video I watched of an inseparable pup and pig, another of a deer and cat, and yet another of an orangutan mothering several tiger cubs.
When I view such heartwarmingly unusual friendships, it reminds me of the description of the garden of Eden. In this setting, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God and each other. And because God gave them plants for food, I imagine even the animals lived peacefully together (Genesis 1:30). But this idyllic scene was disrupted when Adam and Eve sinned (3:21–23). Now in both human relationships and the creation, we see constant struggle and conflict.
Yet the prophet Isaiah reassures us that one day, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (11:6). Many interpret that future day as when Jesus comes again to reign. When He returns, there will be no more divisions and “no more death . . . or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). On that renewed earth, creation will be restored to its former harmony and people of every tribe, nation, and people will join together to worship God (7:9–10; 22:1–5)
Until then, God can help us to restore broken relationships and to develop new, unlikely friendships.
A guest band was leading praise and worship at our church, and their passion for the Lord was moving. We could see—and feel—their enthusiasm.
Then the musicians revealed that they were all ex-prisoners. Suddenly, their songs took on special meaning, and I saw why their words of praise meant so much to them. Their worship was a testimony of lives broken and restored.
The world may embrace success. But stories of failure offer people hope too. They assure us that God loves us no matter how many times we have failed. In his book Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, pastor Gary Inrig writes that what we call the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 could well be entitled God’s Hall of Reclaimed Failures. “There is scarcely an individual in that chapter without a serious blemish in his or her life,” he observes. “But God is in the business of restoring failures . . . . That is a great principle of God’s grace.”
I love the comfort of Psalm 145, which speaks of God’s wonderful works (vv. 5-6) and glorious kingdom (v. 11). It describes His compassion (vv. 8-9) and faithfulness (v. 13)—then immediately tells us that He lifts up those who have fallen (v. 14). All His attributes are expressed when He picks us up. He is indeed in the business of restoration.
Have you failed before? We all have. Have you been restored? All who have been redeemed are stories of God’s grace.
When we brought our adoptive son home from overseas, I was eager to shower him with love and provide what he had lacked over the preceding months, especially quality food, since he had a nutritional deficit. But despite our best efforts, including consulting specialists, he grew very little. After nearly three years, we learned he had some severe food intolerances. After removing those items from his diet, he grew five inches in just a few months. While I grieved at how long I’d unwittingly fed him foods that impaired his growth, I rejoiced at this surge in his health!
I suspect Josiah felt similarly when the Book of the Law was discovered after having been lost in the temple for years. Just as I grieved having unintentionally hindered my son’s growth, Josiah grieved having ignorantly missed God’s fullest and best intentions for His people (2 Kings 22:11). Although he is commended for doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord (v. 2), he learned better how to honor God after finding the Law. With his newfound knowledge, he led the people to worship again as God had instructed them (23:22–23).
As we learn through the Bible how to honor Him, we may grieve the ways we’ve fallen short of God’s will for us. Yet we can be comforted that He heals and restores us, and leads us gently into deeper understanding.
I recently stumbled across some of my journals from college and couldn’t resist taking time to reread them. Reading the entries, I realized I didn’t feel about myself then the same as I do today. My struggles with loneliness and doubts about my faith felt overwhelming at the time, but looking back now I can clearly see how God has carried me to a better place. Seeing how God gently brought me through those days reminded me that what feels overwhelming today will one day be part of a greater story of His healing love.
Psalm 30 is a celebration psalm that similarly looks back with amazement and gratitude on God’s powerful restoration: from sickness to healing, from threat of death to life, from feeling God’s judgment to enjoying His favor, from mourning to joy (vv. 2–3,11).
The psalm is attributed to David, to whom we also owe some of the most pain-filled laments in Scripture. But David also experienced restoration so incredible he was able to confess, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). Despite all the pain he had endured, David discovered something even greater—God’s powerful hand of healing.
If you are hurting today and need encouragement, recall those times in your past when God carried you through to a place of healing. Pray for trust that He will do so again.
Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.
I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.
I arrived early at my church to help set up for an event. A woman stood crying at the opposite end of the sanctuary. She’d been cruel and gossiped about me in the past, so I quickly drowned out her sobs with a vacuum cleaner. Why should I care about someone who didn’t like me?
When the Holy Spirit reminded me how much God had forgiven me, I crossed the room. The woman shared that her baby had been in the hospital for months. We cried, embraced, and prayed for her daughter. After working through our differences, we’re now good friends.
In Matthew 18, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who decided to settle his accounts (v. 23). A servant who owed a staggering amount of money pleaded for mercy (vv. 24–26). Soon after the king canceled his debt, that servant tracked down and condemned a man who owed him far less than what he’d owed the king (vv. 28–30). When word got back to the king, the wicked servant was imprisoned because of his own unforgiving spirit (v. 34).
Choosing to forgive doesn’t condone sin, excuse the wrongs done to us, or minimize our hurts. Offering forgiveness simply frees us to enjoy God’s undeserved gift of mercy, as we invite Him to accomplish beautiful works of peace-restoring grace in our lives and our relationships.
Sunsets. People tend to stop what they are doing to watch them . . . snap pictures of them . . . enjoy the beautiful view.
My wife and I watched the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico recently. A crowd of people surrounded us, mostly strangers who had gathered at the beach to watch this nightly phenomenon. At the moment the sun fully slipped below the horizon the crowd broke out with applause.
Why do people respond like that? The book of Psalms offers a clue. The psalmist wrote of God ordering the sun to praise its Creator (Ps. 148:3). And wherever the rays of the sun shine across the earth, people are moved to praise along with them.
The beauty that comes to us through nature speaks to our souls like few things do. It not only has the capacity to stop us in our tracks and captivate our attention, it also has the power to turn our focus to the Maker of beauty itself.
The wonder of God’s vast creation can cause us to pause and remember what’s truly important. Ultimately, it reminds us that there is a Creator behind the stunning entrance and exit of the day, One who so loved the world He made that He entered it in order to redeem and restore it.
The headline caught my eye: “Rest Days Important for Runners.” In Tommy Manning’s article, the former member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team emphasized a principle that dedicated athletes sometimes ignore—the body needs time to rest and rebuild after exercise. “Physiologically, the adaptations that occur as a result of training only happen during rest,” Manning wrote. “This means rest is as important as workouts.”
The same is true in our walk of faith and service. Regular times of rest are essential to avoid burnout and discouragement. Jesus sought spiritual balance during His life on Earth, even in the face of great demands. When His disciples returned from a strenuous time of teaching and healing others, “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:31). But a large crowd followed them, so Jesus taught them and fed them with only five loaves and two fish (vv. 32–44). When everyone was gone, Jesus “went up on a mountainside to pray” (v. 46).
If our lives are defined by work, then what we do becomes less and less effective. Jesus invites us to regularly join Him in a quiet place to pray and get some rest.
Mom noticed four-year-old Elias as he scurried away from the newborn kittens. She had told him not to touch them. “Did you touch the kitties, Elias?” she asked.
“No!” he said earnestly. So Mom had another question: “Were they soft?”
“Yes,” he volunteered, “and the black one mewed.”
With a toddler, we smile at such duplicity. But Elias’s disobedience underscores our human condition. No one has to teach a four-year-old to lie. “For I was born a sinner,” wrote David in his classic confession, “yes, from the moment my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5
But there’s plenty of hope! “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were,” wrote Paul. “But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant” (Rom. 5:20
God is not waiting for us to blow it so He can pounce on us. He is in the business of grace, forgiveness, and restoration. We need only recognize that our sin is neither cute nor excusable and come to Him in faith and repentance.