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.
If you know that God’s hand is in everything, you can leave everything in God’s hand.
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.
Focusing on God helps us to take our eyes off our circumstances.
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.
Followers of Christ—Christians—are marked by His name.
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.
In the storms of life, we can see the character of our God.
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.
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.
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.
Faith is the best antidote for fear.
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.
Hope comes with help from God and others.
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!
Blessing comes from seeking wisdom and living by it.
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.
God can transform tragedies into triumphs.
“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.
Put Jesus first.