As a native Californian and lover of all things sunny, I shy away from all things cold. I do, however, enjoy beautiful photos of snow. So I couldn’t help but smile when my friend from Illinois shared a winter picture of a sapling outside her window. Admiration turned to sadness when I noticed its bare, knotted branches bowing under the heavy fringe of sparkling icicles.
How long could those bending boughs endure before breaking under their icy burdens? The heaviness threatening to crack the tree’s limbs reminded me of my shoulders, hunched beneath the weight of worries.
After Jesus affirms that the greatest treasures are not earthly or temporary (Matthew 6:19), He encourages us to release our anxious thoughts (v. 25). The Creator and Sustainer of the universe loves and provides for His children (v. 26), so we don’t have to waste our precious time worrying (v. 27). God knows our needs and will care for us (vv. 28–32).
He also knows we’ll be tempted to succumb to worry. He tells us to come to Him first, trust His presence and provision in the present, and live by faith one day at a time (vv. 33–34).
In this life, we’ll face overwhelming troubles and uncertainties that can make our shoulders droop. We may temporarily bend under the weight of worrying. But when we trust God, we won’t break.
Our bodies react to our feelings of dread and fear. A weight in the pit of our stomachs, along with our hearts pounding as we gulp for breath, signal our sense of anxiety. Our physical nature keeps us from ignoring these feelings of unease.
The disciples felt shockwaves of fear one night after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people. The Lord had sent them ahead to Bethsaida so He could be alone to pray. During the night, they were rowing against the wind when suddenly they saw Him walking on the water. Thinking He was a ghost, they were terrified (Mark 6:49-50).
But Jesus reassured them, telling them not to be afraid and to take courage. As He entered their vessel, the wind died down and they made it to the shore. I imagine that their feelings of dread calmed as they embraced the peace He bestowed.
When we’re feeling breathless with anxiety, we can rest assured in Jesus’s power. Whether He calms our waves or strengthens us to face them, He will give us the gift of His peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And as He releases us from our fears, our spirits and our bodies can return to a state of rest.
After graduation from college, I had a low-paying job. Money was tight, and sometimes I didn’t even have enough for my next meal. I learned to trust God for my daily provision.
It reminded me of the prophet Elijah’s experience. During his prophetic ministry, he learned to trust God to meet his daily needs. Shortly after Elijah pronounced God’s judgment of a drought in Israel, God sent him to a deserted place, Kerith Ravine, where He used the ravens to bring Elijah his daily meals and refresh him with water from the brook (1 Kings 17:1–4).
But a drought occurred. The brook shrank to a tiny stream, and slowly became a mere trickle. It was only when the brook had dried up that God said: “Go at once to Zarephath . . . . I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9). Zarephath is in Phoenicia, whose inhabitants were enemies of the Israelites. Would anyone offer Elijah shelter? And would a poor widow have food to share?
Most of us would rather God provided in abundance long before our resources are depleted rather than just enough for each day. But our loving Father whispers, Trust Me. Just as He used ravens and a widow to provide for Elijah, nothing is impossible for Him. We can count on His love and power to meet our daily needs.
My husband was at work when I received news about my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I left him a message and reached out to friends and family. None were available. Covering my face with trembling hands, I sobbed. “Help me, Lord.” A resulting assurance that God was with me comforted me through those moments when I felt utterly alone.
I thanked the Lord when my husband came home and support from friends and family trickled in. Still, the calming awareness of God’s presence that I sensed in those first few hours of lonely grieving affirmed that God is readily and faithfully available wherever and whenever I need help.
In Psalm 46, the psalmist proclaims God is our sanctuary, strength, and steadfast supporter (v. 1). When it feels as if we’re surrounded by chaos or everything we thought was stable crashes down around us, we don’t have to fear (vv. 2–3). God doesn’t falter (vv. 4–7). His power is evident and effective (vv. 8–9). Our eternal Sustainer gives us confidence in His unchanging character (v. 10). The Lord, our secure stronghold, remains with us forever (v. 11).
God created His followers to prayerfully support and encourage one another. But He also affirms He is always able and available. When we call on God, we can trust Him to keep His promises to provide for us. He will comfort us through His people as well as through His personal presence.
Not long ago I visited the Empire State Building with a friend. The line looked short—just down the block and around the corner. Yet as we entered the building, we discovered the line of people stretching through the lobby, up the stairs, and into another room. Every new turn revealed more distance to go.
Attractions and theme parks carefully route their crowds to make the lines seem shorter. Yet disappointment can lurk “just around the bend.”
Sometimes life’s disappointments are much more severe. The job we hoped for doesn’t materialize; friends we counted on let us down; the romantic relationship we longed for fails to work out. But into these heartbreaks, God’s Word speaks a refreshing truth about our hope in Him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame [or disappoint us], because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
As we place our trust in Him, through His Spirit, God whispers the truth that we are unconditionally loved and will one day be with Him—regardless of the obstacles we face. In a world that may often disappoint us, how good it is to know that God gives genuine hope.
A global computer system outage causes widespread flight cancellations, stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers at airports. During a winter storm, multiple auto accidents close major highways. The person who promised to send a reply “right away” has failed to do so. Delays can often produce anger and frustration, but as followers of Jesus, we have the privilege of looking to Him for help.
One of the Bible’s great examples of patience is Joseph, who was sold to slave traders by his jealous brothers, falsely accused by his employer’s wife, and imprisoned in Egypt. “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him” (Genesis 39:20-21). Years later, when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he was made second in command in Egypt (Genesis 41).
The most remarkable fruit of his patience occurred when his brothers came to buy grain during a famine. “I am your brother Joseph,” he told them, “the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:4–5, 8).
In all our delays, brief or long, may we, like Joseph, gain patience, perspective, and peace as we trust in the Lord.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes of the “uncanny ability of experts to get things hopelessly, cataclysmically wrong.” A quick glance at recent history shows he's right. The great inventor Thomas Edison, for instance, once declared that talking movies would never replace silent films. And in 1928, Henry Ford declared, “People are becoming too intelligent ever to have another war.” Countless other predictions by “experts” have missed the mark badly. Genius obviously has its limits.
Only one Person is completely reliable, and He had strong words for some so-called experts. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day claimed to have the Truth. These scholars and theologians thought they knew what the promised Messiah would be like when He arrived.
Jesus cautioned them, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.” Then He pointed out how they were missing the heart of the matter. “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).
As another new year gets underway, we’ll hear predictions ranging from the terrifying to the wildly optimistic. Many of them will be stated with a great deal of confidence and authority. Don’t be alarmed. Our confidence remains in the One at the very heart of the Scriptures. He has a firm grip on us and on our future.
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ at my right, Christ at my left . . .” These hymn lyrics, written by the fifth-century Celtic Christian St. Patrick, echo in my mind when I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth. They feel like a warm embrace, reminding me that I’m never alone.
Matthew’s account tells us that God dwelling with His people is at the heart of Christmas. Quoting Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isa. 7:14), Matthew points to the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy—Jesus, the One born by the power of the Holy Spirit to be God with us. This truth is so central that Matthew begins and ends his gospel with it, concluding with Jesus’s words to His disciples: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
St. Patrick’s lyrics remind me that Christ is with believers always through His Spirit living within. When I’m nervous or afraid, I can hold fast to His promises that He will never leave me. When I can’t fall asleep, I can ask Him to give me His peace. When I’m celebrating and filled with joy, I can thank Him for His gracious work in my life.
Jesus, Immanuel—God with us.
Due to an injury that occurred in 1992, I suffer from chronic pain in my upper back, shoulders, and neck. During the most excruciating and disheartening moments, it’s not always easy to trust or praise the Lord. But when my situation feels unbearable, God’s constant presence comforts me. He strengthens me and reassures me of His unchanging goodness, limitless power, and sustaining grace. And when I’m tempted to doubt my Lord, I’m encouraged by the determined faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They worshipped God and trusted He was with them, even when their situation seemed hopeless.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace if they didn’t turn away from the true God to worship his golden statue (Dan. 3:13–15), these three men displayed courageous and confident faith. They never doubted the Lord was worthy of their worship (v. 17), “even if” He didn’t rescue them from their current predicament (v. 18). And God didn’t leave them alone in their time of need; He joined and protected them in the furnace (vv. 24–25).
God doesn’t leave us alone either. He remains with us through trials that can feel as destructive as Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Even if our suffering doesn’t end on this side of eternity, God is and always will be mighty, trustworthy, and good. We can rely on His constant and loving presence.