One day, I noticed an unexpected splash of yellow to the right of our driveway. Six stalks of daffodils, sandwiched between two large stones, bloomed bright and tall. Because I hadn’t planted, fertilized, or intentionally watered the bulbs, I couldn’t figure out how or why the flowers had sprouted in our yard.
Jesus illustrated a mystery of spiritual growth in “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” He compares the Kingdom of God to a farmer scattering seed on the ground (Mark 4:26). The one who scattered the seed may have done what he could to care for the soil. But Jesus said the seed sprouted whether or not that man slept in, woke up, or even understood the growth process (v. 27–28). The land owner benefited from the harvest (v. 29), though its development didn’t depend on what he did or his understanding of the workings beneath the surface of the soil.
The maturing of the seeds in Jesus’s parable, like the blooming of my daffodils, occurred in God’s time and because of God’s growing power. Whether we’re considering personal spiritual growth or God’s plan to expand the church until Jesus returns, the Lord’s mysterious ways aren’t dependent on our abilities or understanding of His works. Still, God invites us to know, serve, and praise the Grower, reaping the benefits of the spiritual maturity He cultivates in and through us.
As a child, I looked forward to our church’s Sunday evening services. They were exciting. Sunday night often meant that we got to hear from missionaries and other guest speakers. Their messages inspired me because of their willingness to leave family and friends—and at times, homes, possessions, and careers—to go off to strange, unfamiliar, and sometimes dangerous places to serve God.
Like those missionaries, Elisha left many things behind to follow God (1 Kings 19:19–21). Before God called him into service through Elijah, we don’t know much about Elisha—except that he was a farmer. When the prophet Elijah met him in the field where he was plowing, he threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders (the symbol of his role as prophet) and called him to follow. With only a request to kiss his mother and father goodbye, Elisha immediately sacrificed his oxen, burned his plowing equipment, said good-bye to his parents—and followed Elijah.
Though not many of us are called to leave family and friends behind to serve God as fulltime missionaries, God wants all of us to follow Him and to “live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to [us], just as God has called [us]” (1 Corinthians 7:17). As I’ve learned, serving God can be thrilling and challenging no matter where we are—even if we never leave home.
Hollywood musicals were wildly popular during the 1950s and ’60s, and three actresses in particular—Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and Deborah Kerr—thrilled viewers with their compelling performances. But a huge part of the appeal of these actresses was the breathtaking singing that enhanced their acting. In fact, the classic films’ successes were actually due in large part to Marni Nixon, who dubbed the voices for each of those leading ladies and who for a long time went completely uncredited for her vital contribution.
In the body of Christ there are often people that faithfully support others who take a more public role. The apostle Paul depended on exactly that kind of person in his ministry. Tertius’s work as a scribe gave Paul his powerful written voice (Rom. 16:22). Epaphras’s consistent behind-the-scene prayers were an essential foundation for Paul and the early church (Col. 4:12-13). Lydia generously opened her home when the weary apostle needed restoration (Acts 16:15). Paul’s work could not have been possible without the support he received from these fellow servants in Christ (Col. 4:7-18).
We, like Marni Nixon, may not always have highly visible roles, yet we know that God is pleased when we obediently play our essential part in His plan. When we “give [ourselves] fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58), we will find value and meaning in our service as it brings glory to God and draws others to Him (Matt. 5:16).
Sipping her tea, Nancy gazed out her friend’s window and sighed. Spring rains and sunshine had coaxed a riotous expanse of color from a well-groomed flowerbed of lilies, phlox, irises, and evening primrose.
“I want that look,” she said wistfully, “without all the work.”
Some shortcuts are fine—even practical. Others short-circuit our spirit and deaden our lives. We want romance without the difficulties and messiness of committing to someone so different from ourselves. We want “greatness” without the risks and failures necessary in the adventure of real life. We desire to please God, but not when it inconveniences us.
Jesus made clear to His followers that there is no short-cut that avoids the hard choice of surrendering our lives to Him. He warned a prospective disciple, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). To follow Christ requires a radical altering of our loyalties.
When we turn in faith to Jesus, the work just begins. But it is oh-so-worth it, for He also told us that no one who sacrifices “for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age . . . and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). The work of following Christ is difficult, but He’s given us His Spirit and the reward is a full, joyful life now and forever.
David had drawn up the plans. He designed the furniture. He collected the materials. He made all the arrangements (see 1 Chron. 28:11–19). But the first temple built in Jerusalem is known as Solomon’s Temple, not David’s.
For God had said, “You are not the one” (1 Chron. 17:4). God had chosen David’s son Solomon to build the temple. David’s response to this denial was exemplary. He focused on what God would do, instead of what he himself could not do (1 Chron. 17:16–25). He maintained a thankful spirit. He did everything he could and rallied capable men to assist Solomon in building the temple (see 1 Chron. 22).
Bible commentator J. G. McConville wrote: “Often we may have to accept that the work which we would dearly like to perform in terms of Christian service is not that for which we are best equipped, and not that to which God has in fact called us. It may be, like David’s, a preparatory work, leading to something more obviously grand.”
David sought God’s glory, not his own. He faithfully did all he could for God’s temple, laying a solid foundation for the one who would come after him to complete the work. May we, likewise, accept the tasks God has chosen for us to do and serve Him with a thankful heart! Our loving God is doing something “more obviously grand.”
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.
When a woman in Karen’s church was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), things looked bad. This cruel disease affects nerves and muscles, eventually leading to paralysis. The family’s insurance wouldn’t cover home care, and the stricken woman’s husband couldn’t bear the thought of putting her in a nursing home.
As a nurse, Karen had the expertise to help and began going to the woman’s home to care for her. But she soon realized she couldn’t take care of her own family while meeting the needs of her friend, so she started teaching others in the church to help. As the disease ran its course over the next seven years, Karen trained thirty-one additional volunteers who surrounded that family with love, prayer, and practical assistance.
“Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” said John the disciple (1 John 4:21). Karen gives us a shining example of that kind of love. She had the skills, compassion, and vision to rally a church family around a hurting friend. Her love for one person in need became a multiplied love lived out by many.
In many cultures, loud weeping, wailing, and the tearing of clothing are accepted ways of lamenting personal sorrow or a great national calamity. For the people of Old Testament Israel, similar outward actions expressed deep mourning and repentance for turning away from the Lord.
An outward demonstration of repentance can be a powerful process when it comes from our heart. But without a sincere inward response to God, we may simply be going through the motions, even in our communities of faith.
After a plague of locusts devastated the land of Judah, God, through the prophet Joel, called the people to sincere repentance to avoid His further judgment. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12).
Then Joel called for a response from deep inside: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (v. 13). True repentance comes from the heart.
The Lord longs for us to confess our sins to Him and receive His forgiveness so we can love and serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Whatever you need to tell the Lord today, just say it—from the heart.
A siren wailed outside a little boy’s house. Unfamiliar with the sound, he asked his mother what it was. She explained that it was meant to alert people of a dangerous storm. She said that if people did not take cover, they might die as a result of the tornado. The boy replied, “Mommy, why is that a bad thing? If we die, don’t we meet Jesus?”
Little children don’t always understand what it means to die. But Paul, who had a lifetime of experience, wrote something similar: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:23). The apostle was under house arrest at the time, but his statement wasn’t fueled by despair. He was rejoicing because his suffering was causing the gospel to spread (vv. 12-14).
So why would Paul be torn between a desire for life and death? Because to go on living would mean “fruitful labor.” But if he died he knew he would enjoy a special kind of closeness with Christ. To be absent from our bodies is to be home with the Lord (2 Cor. 4:6-8).
People who believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection will be with Him forever. It’s been said, “All’s well that ends in heaven.” Whether we live or die, we win. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).