God’s World

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness. —Psalm 24:1

I knew my son would enjoy receiving a map of the world for his birthday. After some shopping, I found a colorful chart of the continents, which included illustrations in every region. A birdwing butterfly hovered over Papua, New Guinea. Mountains cascaded through Chile. A diamond adorned South Africa. I was delighted, but I wondered about the label at the bottom of the map: Our World.

In one sense, the earth is our world because we live in it. We’re allowed to drink its water, mine its gold, and fish its seas—but only because God has given us the go-ahead (Gen. 1:28-30). Really, it’s God’s World. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). It amazes me that God has entrusted His incredible creation to mere humans. He knew that some of us would mistreat it, deny He made it, and claim it as ours. Still, He allows us to call it home and sustains it through His Son (Col. 1:16-17).

Today, take a moment to enjoy life in God’s world. Savor the taste of some fruit. Eavesdrop on a bird and listen to its song. Revel in a sunset. Let the world you inhabit inspire you to worship the One who owns it.

Help me, Lord, to stop occasionally. To look, to listen, to taste, to think about the gifts You send for our enjoyment. Thank You for expressing Your creativity and love to me today.
The beauty of creation gives us reasons to sing God’s praise.
INSIGHT: “This sacred hymn [Psalm 24] was probably written to be sung when the ark of the covenant was taken up from the house of Obed-edom, to remain within curtains upon the hill of Zion” (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David). David summons us to worship God as the Creator and Owner of all the earth (Ps. 24: 1-2), to live holy lives (vv. 3-4), and to submit ourselves to God as the Sovereign King of all creation (vv. 7-10). The worshiper who seeks God wholeheartedly is promised a blessing—he will be justified, accepted, and approved by God (vv. 5-6).


Outrunning Cheetahs

The grass withers, the flower fades . . . . But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:7,31

The majestic African cheetah is known for reaching speeds of 112 kph (70 mph) in short bursts, but it doesn’t do so well over distances. A BBC news item reports that four members of a northeast Kenyan village actually outran two cheetahs in a 4-mile footrace.

It seems that two large cheetahs had been feeding on village goats. So the four men came up with a plan to stop them. They waited until the hottest part of the day and then gave chase to the cats, tracking them down when the animals couldn’t run any farther. The exhausted cheetahs were safely captured and turned over to the Kenyan wildlife service for relocation.

Can we see ourselves in the cheetah? Our strengths might seem impressive, but they are short-lived. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, we are like wildflowers that soon wither under the heat of the sun (40:6-8).

Yet it is at the end of ourselves that our God offers us comfort. A surprise rises up to meet those who wait on the Lord. In His time and ways, He can renew our strength. By His Spirit He can enable us to rise up on “wings like eagles” or to “run and not be weary, [to] walk and not faint” (v.31).

Lord, forgive us for the many times that we rely on our short-lived strength. Help us see that all good gifts come from You, and that You are the never-failing source of our strength, hope, and joy.
When we draw near to God, our minds are refreshed and our strength is renewed.
INSIGHT: The prophets often carry a message of doom. Today’s passage, however, is one of encouragement. Isaiah tells God’s people to have hope because the God whose power created the ends of the earth is the God who lifts them up when they are weary.


We’re A Community

[The Lord] gave some . . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. —Ephesians 4:11-12

A pastor’s wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That put the family in a difficult, stressful situation. The pastor wondered how he was going to be able to take good care of her while he still had responsibilities for his church family. But he needn’t have worried because church members stepped up and volunteered to assist him with meals and some of her care.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the purpose for which the Lord gave them their spiritual gifts. Before he listed the diversity of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, he reminded them that “a spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (v.7 nlt). God does not give His spiritual gifts for our own selfish use but to serve others, and in so doing, we serve Him.

We are all given different gifts to be used at different times and in different ways. But they are all to be used in love for the “edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). Wherever God has placed us, we can use what He has gifted us to do as we see the need, remembering that we are all part of the church—the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13-14).

Thank You, Father, for the wonderful gifts You have given Your church. Help me to understand how You have gifted me to encourage other believers, and to spread the message of Your love to the world.
Use your gifts to exercise care for others.
INSIGHT: Spiritual gifts are discussed in 1 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. In 1 Corinthians 12–14, Paul emphasizes how these gifts relate to one another within the body of Christ, the church. In Romans 12:3-8, he gives a shorter list, but also emphasizes the exercising of those gifts. In Ephesians 4:11-13, he describes gifted leaders God has given to the church for its development in life and service. In 1 Peter 4, the apostle Peter says that the purpose of all gifts is that “God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (v. 11).


The Best Fishing Holes

He was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words. —2 Corinthians 12:4

My friend Gus passed away a few months ago. Gus was a fellow trout fisherman. Weekends usually found him in his little boat on a nearby lake, casting for fish. I got a letter from his daughter Heidi the other day. She told me she’s been talking about heaven with her grandkids since Gus went to his home in heaven. Her 6-year-old grandson, who also loves to fish, explained what heaven is like and what Great-Grandpa Gus is doing: “It’s really beautiful,” he mused, “and Jesus is showing Grandpa Gus where the best fishing holes are.”

When Paul reported his God-given vision of heaven, words failed him. He said, “I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words” (2 Cor. 12:4 nlt). Words cannot convey the facts of heaven—perhaps because we humans are unable to comprehend them.

While we might gain some comfort from knowing more details about heaven, it is not the knowledge of heaven that assures us; it is our knowledge of God Himself. Because I know Him and I know how good He is, I can leave this life and everything in it with utter confidence that heaven will be beautiful and Jesus will show me “where the best fishing holes are”—because that’s the kind of God He is!

Let us beg and pray Him day by day to reveal Himself to our souls more fully, to quicken our sense, to give us sight and hearing, taste and touch of the world to come. —John Henry Newman
Nothing on earth compares to being with Christ in heaven.
INSIGHT: In the book of Revelation, the apostle John writes of the new heaven and earth and the heavenly city of Jerusalem (21:1–22:5). In this marvelous scene we are brought back to a garden setting, reminiscent of the garden of Eden at the dawn of human history (Gen. 2–3). What was ruined by sin in Eden is now fully restored (Gen. 3:1-19; Rev. 22:1-3). The Tree of Life, representing never-ending physical life that was denied humanity because of sin, is now readily available and accessible (Gen. 3:22-24; Rev. 22:2). The curse brought about by sin is completely reversed (Gen. 3:14-19; Rev. 22:3). There will be purity, perfect service, and perfect communion with God. The greatest blessing will be the unhindered fellowship with God Himself, for we “shall see His face” (Rev. 22:4).


Too Much For Me

O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. —Matthew 26:39

“God never gives us more than we can handle,” someone said to a father whose 5-year-old son had just lost his battle with cancer. These words, which were intended to encourage him, instead depressed him and caused him to wonder why he wasn’t “handling” the loss of his boy at all. The pain was so much to bear that he could hardly even breathe. He knew his grief was too much for him and that he desperately needed God to hold him tight.

The verse that some use to support the statement “God never gives us more than we can handle” is 1 Corinthians 10:13, “When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (niv). But the context of these words is temptation, not suffering. We can choose the way out of temptation that God provides, but we can’t choose a way out of suffering.

Jesus Himself wanted a way out of His upcoming suffering when He prayed, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. . . . O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:38-39). Yet He willingly went through this for our salvation.

When life seems too much to bear, that’s when we throw ourselves on God’s mercy, and He holds on to us.

Father, I feel vulnerable and weak. I know You are my refuge and strength, my help in trouble. I call upon Your name, Lord. Hold on to me.
With God behind you and His arms beneath you, you can face whatever lies ahead.
INSIGHT: Despite the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus was part of the divine plan for the restoration of humanity, Jesus was still apprehensive about the physical suffering He was about to endure. This fear is one of the strongest evidences of His humanity.


Don’t Worry!

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. —1 Peter 5:7

George Burns, American actor and humorist, said, “If you ask, ‘What is the single most important key to longevity?’ I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress, and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” Burns, who lived to be 100, enjoyed making people laugh, and apparently followed his own advice.

But how can we keep from worrying when our lives are so uncertain, so filled with problems and needs? The apostle Peter offered this encouragement to the followers of Jesus who had been forcibly scattered across Asia during the first century: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Peter’s instructions were not given to help us avoid suffering (v.9), but so we can find peace and power to stand victorious against the attacks of Satan (vv.8-10). Instead of being consumed by anxiety and worry, we are set free to enjoy God’s love for us and express it to each other.

Our goal should not be to see how many years we can live but instead to live fully in loving service to the Lord for all the years we are given.

Lord, I admit that I take things into my own hands and worry. That weighs my spirit down and sometimes robs my nights of rest. Lift the heaviness from my heart as I lean into You.
I will never think of anything that [God, my Father,] will forget, so why should I worry? —Oswald Chambers
INSIGHT: Peter’s words in verses 1-3 are a challenge to those who serve in shepherding ministries—that is, as pastors or spiritual leaders. He reminds us that those who serve as shepherds are to reflect the heart of the good, great, and chief Shepherd—Jesus (see John 10).


Pray First

David inquired of the Lord. —1 Samuel 23:2

When my husband and I supervise our son’s piano practice sessions, we begin by asking God to help us. We pray first because neither my husband nor I know how to play the instrument. Together, all three of us are coming to understand musical mysteries such as the meaning of “staccato” and “legato” and when to use the piano’s black keys.

Prayer becomes a priority when we realize that we need God’s help. David needed God’s assistance in a dangerous situation as he considered fighting the Philistines in the city of Keilah. Before engaging in battle, “David inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’” (1 Sam. 23:2). God gave His approval. However, David’s men admitted that the enemy forces intimidated them. Before a single sword was lifted against the Philistines, David prayed again. God promised him the victory he later claimed (v.4).

Does prayer guide our lives, or is it our last resort when trouble strikes? We sometimes fall into the habit of making plans and then asking God to bless them, or praying only in moments of desperation. God does want us to turn to Him in moments of need. But He also wants us to remember that we need Him all the time (Prov. 3:5-6).

Dear God, please guide me as I walk through this life. Help me not to act only by my own wisdom, but to seek Your will in every situation.
God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. —Oswald Chambers
INSIGHT: In today’s passage we are told twice that David “inquired of the Lord” (vv. 2,4), but we are not told how he sought out God’s will. Some say David himself was the prophetic voice (2 Sam. 23:2; Acts 4:25) or that he cast lots since the Lord directed the lots (Prov. 16:33). He may have simply petitioned God in prayer with an open heart.


That Is Mine!

am the Lord; that is My name. —Isaiah 42:8

The Nile of Africa, which spans 6,650 kilometers (more than 4,100 miles) and flows northward across several northeastern African countries, is the world’s longest river. Over the centuries, the Nile has provided sustenance and livelihood for millions of citizens in the countries it passes through. Currently, Ethiopia is building what will become Africa’s largest hydro-power dam on the Nile. It will be a great resource for the area.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, claimed to be the Nile’s owner and originator. He and all Egypt boasted, “My River is my own; I have made it for myself” (Ezek. 29:3,9). They failed to acknowledge that God alone provides natural resources. As a result, God promised to punish the nation (vv.8-9).

We are to care for God’s creation, and not forget that everything we have comes from the Lord. Romans 11:36 says, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” He is the One who also endows humanity with the ability to manufacture and invent man-made resources. Whenever we talk about a good thing that has come to us or that we have accomplished, we need to remember what God says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.”

Praise the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does such wonderful things. Praise Your glorious name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with Your glory.
To God be the glory—great things He has done!
INSIGHT: The psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1 NIV). Ezekiel underscores this point to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Pharaoh claimed to have created the Nile (Ezek. 29:3), but Ezekiel shows that God is angry with Pharaoh’s arrogant claim. God is the true Creator and He controls the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea (vv. 3-5).


When We’re Let Down

The Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands. —1 Samuel 17:47

On August 4, 1991, the MTS Oceanos cruise ship ran into a terrible storm off the coast of South Africa. When the ship began to sink, the captain decided to abandon ship and left with his officers, failing to notify those onboard of any problem. Passenger Moss Hills, a British musician, noticed that something was wrong and sent out a Mayday signal to the South African coast guard. Then, taking matters into their own hands, Moss, his wife Tracy, and other entertainers on board helped organize the evacuation of all passengers by assisting them as they were lifted into helicopters.

Sometimes those we look to for leadership can let us down. When King Saul and his officers faced the belligerent insults of the Philistine giant Goliath, they responded with fear and timidity (1 Sam. 17:11). But a young musician and shepherd boy named David had faith in God that transformed his perspective on this threat. David said to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword . . . . But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts” (v.45). David defeated the enemy and turned the tide of battle (v.50). He did not look to earthly leaders for his strength but to the living God.

When others let us down, God may be calling us to provide leadership in His strength and for His honor.

Dear Lord, I don’t have the power on my own to lead others through a difficult situation. But You are all-powerful. Give me the courage to help others as I rely on Your strength that cannot fail.
Only as we follow Christ can we lead others in the right direction.


The Mud Puddle

Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart! —Psalm 119:2

My friend Ed was telling me a story about his little son. He was standing in a mud puddle, so Ed told him to get out. But instead, his son began running through the puddle. “No running through it either,” he said. So the boy began walking through the water. When Ed told him, “No walking!” the boy stood with just his toes in the water, looking defiantly at his dad. The child knew what his father wanted, but he didn’t want to do it.

Sometimes I’m like that stubborn little boy. I know that what I’m doing isn’t pleasing to the Lord, but I do it anyway. God told the children of Israel to “fully obey the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:1niv), but they failed repeatedly. The psalmist acknowledged his struggle in Psalm 119, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (v.5 niv).

Jealousy, hatred, rebellion—they occur all too often. But God provided for our redemption through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us when we are tempted (1 Cor. 10:13); and when we confess our wrongdoing, God promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

If you are like me and keep running back into the mud puddles of life, don’t give up. God will help you to resist temptation, and He will never stop loving you!

Dear Lord, help me when I’m tempted. Bring the promises of the Bible to mind and strengthen me by Your Holy Spirit to say no to temptation. Let all my words and deeds bring honor to Your name.
To master temptation, let Christ master you.
INSIGHT: Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses. The entire psalm celebrates God’s Word and speaks of its priority and sufficiency in the daily life of the believer. The psalmist uses different words to describe God’s Word: the law of the Lord (v. 1), testimonies (v. 2), ways (v. 3), precepts (v. 4), statutes (v. 5), commandments (v. 6), righteous judgments (v. 7), and word (v. 9). Through the Bible, God communicates His standards for our lives, His guidance, and His ways.