Mysterious Ways

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways. —Isaiah 55:9

When my son began attending Chinese language classes, I marveled at the papers he brought home after his first session. As a native English speaker, it was difficult for me to understand how the written characters related to the spoken words. The language seemed incredibly complex to me—almost incomprehensible.

Sometimes I feel the same sense of bewilderment when I consider the way God operates. I know He has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isa. 55:8). Still, there’s a part of me that feels like I should be able to understand why God allows certain things to happen. After all, I read His Word regularly and His Holy Spirit lives inside of me.

When I feel entitled to understand God’s ways, I try to recommit myself to humility. I remember that Job did not get an explanation for all his heartache (Job 1:5,8). He struggled to understand, but God asked him: “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?” (40:2). Job contritely responded, “What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth” (v.4). Job was speechless before God’s greatness.

Although God’s ways may seem to be mysterious and unfathomable at times, we can rest confidently that they are higher than our ways.

Father, please help me to trust You even when I don’t understand why things happen as they
do. Please comfort my heart and remind me of Your goodness and love.

If you know that God’s hand is in everything, you can leave everything in God’s hand.

INSIGHT: In trying to explain why he was suffering, Job argued that he had not committed any wrong deserving of such punishment. In so justifying himself, Job was in essence questioning God’s fairness and justice (40:8; see also Job 21,24). God confronted Job, asserting that only He is qualified and has the absolute power, wisdom, and ability to rule this world justly (40:15-24).


I’m Stumped

I am afraid that . . . your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. —2 Corinthians 11:3 niv

The riddle stumped me: What is greater than God—and more evil than the devil? The poor have it. The rich need it. And if you eat it you will die.

I missed the solution by allowing my mind to be distracted from the obvious answer: “Nothing.”

That riddle reminds me of another test of wits that would have been far more difficult to solve when it was originally posed. An ancient wise man named Agur asked: “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?” (Prov. 30:4).

Today, we know the answer to those questions. But sometimes when we’re in the middle of the questions, worries, and needs of our lives we may lose sight of the obvious. The details of life can so easily distract us from the One who answers the most important riddle: Who is One with God; more powerful than the devil; the poor can have Him; the rich need Him; and if you eat and drink from His table, you’ll never die? Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Father, in the details and distractions of our spiritual journey, it is so easy to look right past
You and Your Son. May we see You today in a new and fresh way.

Focusing on God helps us to take our eyes off our circumstances.

INSIGHT: The book of Proverbs contains many pithy sayings that promote a wise approach to life. Living by them does not guarantee that life will always go smoothly, but taking their advice will help avoid unnecessary problems. Proverbs 30 is slightly different in that it is prefaced by a reflection on the wisdom of the Lord. By introducing the Lord in the beginning of his reflection, Agur acknowledges that he has not “mastered human wisdom” (v. 3 NLT) and suggests that all wisdom is from the Lord.


Marked By His Name

The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. —Acts 11:26

In July 1860, the world’s first nursing school opened at St. Thomas Hospital in London. Today that school is part of the King’s College, where nursing students are called Nightingales. The school—like modern nursing itself—was established by Florence Nightingale, who revolutionized nursing during the Crimean War. When prospective nurses complete their training, they take the “Nightingale Pledge,” a reflection of her ongoing impact on nursing.

Many people, like Florence Nightingale, have had a significant impact on our world. But no one has had a greater effect than Jesus, whose birth, death, and resurrection have been transforming lives for 2,000 years.

Around the world, Christ’s name marks those who are His followers, going back to the earliest days of the church. “When [Barnabas] had found [Saul], he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

Those who bear Christ’s name identify with Him because we have been changed by His love and grace. We declare to the world that He has made an eternal difference in our lives and we long for that in the hearts of others too.

Father, give me the grace and wisdom to honor You. May my life be so marked by the
person of Christ that His great name—and salvation—will be embraced by others as well.

Followers of Christ—Christians—are marked by His name.

INSIGHT: Antioch was a significant city for the early church. An assembly of believers was birthed there, and Barnabas (“the son of encouragement”) was sent from Jerusalem to help them (Acts 11:22). Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, stayed with this growing church for a year, which helped prepare him for his role as an apostle.


Calming The Storm

He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. —Mark 4:39

While Hurricane Katrina headed toward the coast of Mississippi, a retired pastor and his wife left their home and went to a shelter. Their daughter pleaded with them to go to Atlanta where she could take care of them, but the couple couldn’t get any money to make the trip because the banks were closed. After the storm had passed, they returned to their home to get a few belongings, and were able to salvage only a few family photos floating in the water. Then, when the man was taking his father’s photo out of its frame so it could dry, $366 fell out—precisely the amount needed for two plane tickets to Atlanta. They learned they could trust Jesus for what they needed.

For the disciples, trusting Jesus in a storm was the curriculum for the day in the dramatic narrative of Mark 4:35-41. Jesus had instructed His disciples to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and then He went to sleep in the boat. When a quick and violent storm blew in, the disciples dripped as much with fear and anxiety as water from the waves. They woke Jesus, saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v.38 niv). Jesus stood up and with three words, “Peace, be still!” He muzzled the storm.

We all experience storms—persecutions, financial troubles, illnesses, disappointments, loneliness—and Jesus does not always prevent them. But He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He will keep us calm in the storm.

Are you in a storm? What do you know about God’s character that could
help bring calm to your heart?

In the storms of life, we can see the character of our God.

INSIGHT: Mark 4:35–5:43 records four miracles that answer the question asked in 4:41: “Who can this be . . . ?” They demonstrate Jesus’ absolute power over nature (4:35-41), the spiritual world (5:1-20), physical illnesses (5:21-34), and death (5:35-43). Each miracle shows Jesus as the Omnipotent Sovereign God. In Jewish minds the power to control the sea and the waves was exclusive to God (Job 38:8-11; Ps. 65:5-7; Isa. 51:10; Nah. 1:3-5). It’s interesting, however, that in today’s passage Mark provides an amazing contrast. Just before Jesus displayed the awesome powers of His deity by calming the sea, we are given a touching picture of His frail humanity: Jesus was so tired that even the violent tossing of the waves did not wake Him (4:38).


Our Strength And Song

The Lord shall reign forever and ever. —Exodus 15:18

Often called “The March King,” composer and band director John Philip Sousa created music that has been played by bands around the world for more than a hundred years. As Loras John Schissel, music historian and conductor of the Virginia Grand Military Band, said, “Sousa is to marches what Beethoven is to symphonies.” Sousa understood the power of music to motivate, encourage, and inspire people.

In Old Testament times, the people of Israel were often inspired to compose and sing songs to celebrate God’s help during times of need. When the Lord saved His people from certain destruction by Pharaoh’s army, “Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord . . . ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation’ ” (Ex. 15:1-2).

Music has the power to lift our spirits by reminding us of God’s faithfulness in the past. When we’re discouraged, we can sing songs and hymns that raise our eyes from the challenging circumstances we face to see the power and presence of the Lord. We are reminded that He is our strength, our song, and our salvation.

Trust in Him, ye saints, forever—
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him. —Kelly

Songs of praise raise our eyes to see God’s faithfulness.

INSIGHT: Moses’s song after the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea and were delivered from the pursuing Egyptians has two perspectives—one looking back and one looking forward. In the first verses, Moses reflects on what God has done to deliver His people (vv. 1-2). In the later verses, Moses looks forward to what God will do to establish His people in their new land (vv. 13-18).


Chipmunk Chatter

Fear not; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13

I had laid out some landscape netting in my yard, upon which I was going to spread decorative stones. As I was preparing to finish the job, I noticed a chipmunk tangled up in the netting.

I put on my gloves and gingerly began clipping away at the netting. The little guy was not happy with me. He kicked his hind feet and tried to bite me. I calmly told him, “I’m not going to hurt you, buddy. Just relax.” But he didn’t understand, so in fear he resisted. I finally snipped the last restricting loop and sent him scampering home.

Sometimes humans feel entangled and react in fear to the Lord. Through the centuries, He has offered rescue and hope to people—yet we resist Him, not understanding the help He provides. In Isaiah 41, the prophet quotes the Lord as saying, “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not; I will help you’” (v.13).

As you think about your situation, how do you see God’s role? Are you afraid to turn things over to Him—for fear that He might harm you? He is good and He is near, wanting to free you from life’s entanglements. You can trust Him with your life.

In what area of your life do you need freedom? Ask the Lord to show you and to give you the faith to trust Him for His deliverance.

Faith is the best antidote for fear.

INSIGHT: Of the prophet Isaiah, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: “Isaiah was the son of Amoz (not Amos). He seems to have belonged to a family of some rank, as may be inferred from his easy access to the king (Isa 7:3), and his close intimacy with the priest (Isa 8:2). Tradition says he was the cousin of King Uzziah. He lived in Jerusalem and became court preacher. He was married and had two sons: Shear-jashub, his name signifying ‘a remnant shall return’ (Isa 7:3), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, ‘hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey,’ symbolic of Assyria’s mad lust of conquest (Isa 8:3).”


Stuck In The Mud

He . . . brought me up out of . . . the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock. —Psalm 40:2

We were absolutely stuck! While I was laying the wreath in place on my parents’ grave, my husband eased the car off the road to allow another car to pass. It had rained for weeks and the parking area was sodden. When we were ready to leave, we discovered that the car was stuck. The wheels spun, sinking further and further into the mud.

We weren’t going anywhere without a push, but my husband had a damaged shoulder, and I had just come out of the hospital. We needed help! At a distance I saw two young men, and they responded cheerfully to my frantic waves and shouts. Thankfully, their combined strength pushed the car back onto the roadway.

Psalm 40 recounts God’s faithfulness when David cried for help. “I waited patiently for the Lordto help me, and he . . . heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire” (vv.1-2 nlt). Whether this psalm refers to an actual pit or to challenging circumstances, David knew that he could always call on God for deliverance.

God will help us too when we call on Him. Sometimes He intervenes directly, but more often He works through other people. When we admit our need to Him—and perhaps to others—we can count on His faithfulness.

I praise You, heavenly Father, that You can rescue me from any pit, no matter how deep. Help me
to accept the help of others and to be ready to offer it to those in need.

Hope comes with help from God and others.

INSIGHT: David wrote about his struggles to trust God during difficult times, but he persisted in praying for His help (vv. 11-17). Despite his prolonged and uncertain waiting (vv. 13,17), David testified that God hears and answers prayers (vv. 1-2) and is worthy of our trust (vv. 3-4). In response to God’s faithfulness, David committed himself to obeying God’s Word and doing His will (vv. 6-8), and he calls on all who seek and long for God to join him in praising God (v. 16).


Wisdom Seekers

Blessed are those who find wisdom. —Proverbs 3:13 niv

Every spring colleges and universities hold commencement ceremonies to celebrate the success of students who have completed their studies and earned their degrees. After the students cross the stage, these graduates will enter a world that will challenge them. Just having academic knowledge won’t be good enough. The key to success in life will be in wisely applying everything they have learned.

Throughout Scripture, wisdom is celebrated as a treasure that is worth seeking. It is better than riches (Prov. 3:13-18). Its source is God, who alone is perfectly wise (Rom. 16:27). And it is found in the actions and attitude of Jesus, in whom “all the treasures of wisdom” are found (Col. 2:3). Wisdom comes from reading and applying the Scripture. We have an example of this in the way Jesus applied His knowledge when He was tempted (Luke 4:1-13). In other words, the truly wise person tries to see life from God’s point of view and chooses to live according to His wisdom.

What’s the payoff for this kind of life? Proverbs tells us that wisdom is like sweetness of honey on the tongue (Prov. 24:13-14). “Blessed are those who find wisdom” (3:13 niv). So seek wisdom, for it is more profitable than silver or gold!

Lord, strengthen my resolve to live by the wisdom that comes only from You. Give me the discernment
to live all of life from Your point of view that I might know the blessings of a life lived wisely.

Blessing comes from seeking wisdom and living by it.



New Start For A Broken Heart

He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted. —Isaiah 61:1

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia, is filled with anonymously donated remnants of love gone wrong. There is an axe that a jilted lover used to destroy the furniture of an offending partner. Stuffed animals, love letters framed in broken glass, and wedding dresses all speak volumes of heartache. While some visitors to the museum leave in tears over their own loss, some couples depart with hugs and a promise not to fail each other.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because theLord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Isa. 61:1). When Jesus read from Isaiah 61 at the synagogue in Nazareth, He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Extending far beyond help for an emotional wound, Isaiah’s words speak of a changed heart and a renewed spirit that come by receiving God’s gift of “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3).

All of us have experienced regret and broken promises in our lives. Whatever has happened, the Lord invites us to find healing, hope, and new life in Him.

Lord, You are the promise-keeping God who has said He will make all things new. Today we give You
our ashes in exchange for Your beauty, our mourning for the joy of finding comfort in You. Thank You!

God can transform tragedies into triumphs.

INSIGHT: Today’s Bible reading is a prophetic text that points to the arrival of the Messiah. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus selected a portion of this passage to announce His arrival and mission (Isa. 61:1-2). Luke 4:18-19 records for us this significant announcement rooted in Isaiah’s ancient words. In the verbs used by Isaiah, we see the core of Christ’s work (preach, heal, proclaim), and in the nouns we find word-pictures of the needy people for whom He had come (poor, brokenhearted, captives, bound).


Guard Your Focus

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. —Hebrews 12:2

“That’s my disciple,” I once heard a woman say about someone she was helping. As followers of Christ we are all tasked with making disciples—sharing the good news of Christ with people and helping them grow spiritually. But it can be easy to focus on ourselves instead of Jesus.

The apostle Paul was concerned that the Corinthian church was losing its focus on Christ. The two best-known preachers in those days were Paul and Apollos. The church was divided: “I follow Paul.” “Well, I follow Apollos!” They had begun focusing on the wrong person, following the teachers rather than the Savior. But Paul corrected them. We are “God’s fellow workers.” It doesn’t matter who plants and who waters, for only God can give the growth. Christians are “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:6-9). The Corinthian believers didn’t belong to Paul nor to Apollos.

Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and to teach them about Him (Matt. 28:20). And the author of the book of Hebrews reminds us to focus on the Author and Finisher of our faith (12:2). Christ will be honored when we focus on Him; He is superior to any human being and He will meet our needs.

Father, I confess that it is easy to shift my focus from You to less important things. Thank You for putting
people in my life that help point me to You. Help me point others to You in a way that makes You more and me less.

Put Jesus first.

INSIGHT: Apollos first appears on the pages of the New Testament in the book of Acts, where it says he was “born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures” (18:24). Though he spoke of Jesus boldly in the synagogue, his understanding of the Scriptures was incomplete, so he received training from Aquila and Priscilla (v. 26). Apollos is discussed in today’s text as someone who had developed a strong following among believers in Christ (1 Cor. 3:4). He is mentioned favorably by Paul in Titus 3:13 when he urged Titus to help Apollos on his journey.