The day started out like any other, but it ended as a nightmare. Esther (not her real name) and several hundred women were kidnapped from their boarding school by a religious militant group. A month later all were released—except for Esther who refused to deny Christ. As my friend and I read about her and others who are being persecuted for their faith, our hearts were moved. We wanted to do something. But what?
When writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul shared about the trouble he experienced in the province of Asia. The persecution was so severe that he and his companions “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, Paul was helped by the prayers of believers (v. 11). Though the Corinthian church was many miles away from Paul, their prayers mattered and God heard them. Herein lies an amazing mystery: the sovereign God has chosen to use our prayers to accomplish His purpose. What a privilege!
Today we can continue to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith. There is something we can do. We can pray for those who are marginalized, oppressed, beaten, tortured, and sometimes even killed for their faith in Christ? Let’s pray for them to experience God’s comfort and encouragement and to be strengthened with hope as they stand firmly with Jesus.
One Saturday afternoon, some teenagers from my church’s youth group gathered in a cafeteria to ask one another some hard questions based on Philippians 2:3–4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Some of the difficult queries included: How often do you take an interest in others? Would someone describe you as humble or proud? Why?
As I listened, I was encouraged by their honest answers. The group agreed that it’s easy to acknowledge our shortcomings, but it’s hard to change, or—for that matter—desire to change. As one teen uttered, “Selfishness is in my blood.”
The desire to let go of our focus on self to humbly serve others is only possible through Jesus’s Spirit living in us. That’s why Paul reminded the Philippian church to reflect on what God had done and made possible for them. He had graciously adopted them, comforted them with His love, and given His Spirit to help them (Philippians 2:1–2). How could they—and we—respond to such grace with anything less than humility?
Yes, God is the reason for us to change, and only He can change us. Because He gives us “the desire and power to do what pleases Him” (v.13
“What’s one thing you can’t give up?” the radio host asked. Listeners called in with some interesting answers. Some mentioned their families, including a husband who shared memories of a deceased wife. Others shared they can’t give up on their dreams, such as making a living in music or becoming a mother. All of us have something we treasure dearly—a person, a passion, a possession—something we can’t give up.
In the book of Hosea, God tells us that He won’t give up on His chosen people Israel, His treasured possession. As Israel’s loving husband, God provided her with everything she needed: land, food, drink, clothing, and security. Yet like an adulterous spouse, Israel rejected God and sought her happiness and security elsewhere. The more God pursued her, the further she drifted away (Hosea 11:2). However, though she had hurt Him deeply, He would not give her up (v. 8). He would discipline Israel so as to redeem her; His desire was to re-establish His relationship with her (v. 11).
Today, all God’s children can have the same assurance: His love for us is a love that will never let us go (Romans 8:37–39). If we’ve wandered from Him, He yearns for us to return. When God disciplines us, we can be comforted that it’s a sign of His pursuit, not of His rejection. We are His treasure; He won’t give up on us.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the cello. But I’ve never found the time to enroll in a class. Or, perhaps more accurately, I haven’t made the time for it. I had thought that in heaven I could probably master that instrument. In the meantime, I wanted to focus on using my time in the particular ways God has called me to serve Him now.
Life is short, and we often feel the pressure to make the most of our time on Earth before it slips away. But what does that really mean?
As King Solomon contemplated the meaning of life, he offered two recommendations. First, we’re to live in the most meaningful way we can, which includes fully enjoying the good things God allows us to experience in life, such as food and drink (Ecclesiastes 9:7), clothing and perfume (v. 8
His second recommendation was diligent work (v. 10). Life is full of opportunities, and there is always more work to be done. We’re to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us, seeking His wisdom on how to prioritize work and play in a way that uses our gifting to serve Him.
Life is a wonderful gift from the Lord. We honor Him when we take pleasure both in His daily blessings and in meaningful service.
It’s that time of the year again, when families gather to celebrate the festive season together. Some of us, however, dread meeting certain “concerned” relatives whose questions can make those who are still single or childless feel that there’s something wrong with them.
Imagine the plight of Elizabeth, who was childless despite being married for many years. In her culture, that was seen as a sign of God’s disfavor (see 1 Samuel 1:5–6) and could actually be considered shameful. So while Elizabeth had been living righteously (Luke 1:6), her neighbors and relatives may have suspected otherwise.
Nonetheless, Elizabeth and her husband continued to serve the Lord faithfully. Then, when both were well advanced in years, a miracle occurred. God heard her prayer (v. 13). He loves to show us His favor (v. 25). And though He may seem to delay, His timing is always right and His wisdom always perfect. For Elizabeth and her husband, God had a special gift: A child who would become the Messiah’s forerunner (Isaiah 40:3–5).
Do you feel inadequate because you seem to lack something—a university degree, a spouse, a child, a job, a house? Keep living for Him faithfully and waiting patiently for Him and His plan, just as Elizabeth did. No matter our circumstances, God is working in and through us. He knows your heart. He hears your prayers.
My friend was adopted by a missionary couple from Michigan and grew up in Ghana. After his family moved back to Michigan, he began college but had to drop out. Later, he signed on with the military, which eventually helped him pay for college and took him all over the world. Through it all, God was at work, preparing him for a special role. Today, he writes and edits Christian literature that ministers to an international audience.
His wife also has an interesting story. She failed her chemistry exams during her first year of college due to the strong medication she had to take for epilepsy. After some careful deliberation, she switched from studying science to studying American Sign Language, which had a more manageable workload. Reflecting on that experience, she says, “God was redirecting my life for a greater purpose.” Today, she is making His life-changing Word accessible to the hearing-impaired.
Do you sometimes wonder where God is leading you? Psalm 139:16 acknowledges God’s sovereign hand in our lives: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” We don’t know how God will use the circumstances of our life, but we can rest in the knowledge that God knows everything about us and He is directing our footsteps. Though His sovereign hand may seem hidden, He’s never absent.
According to legend, Qu Yuan was a wise and patriotic Chinese government official who lived during the time known as the Warring States period (475–246
Qu Yuan’s life resembles some aspects of the life of the prophet Jeremiah. He too served kings who scorned his warnings, and his country was ravaged. However, while Qu Yuan gave in to his despair, Jeremiah found genuine hope. Why the difference?
Jeremiah knew the Lord who offers the only true hope. “There is hope for your descendants,” God had assured His prophet. “Your children will return to their own land” (Jeremiah 31:17). Although Jerusalem was destroyed in 586
At some point, we all find ourselves in situations that can cause us to despair. It could be a bad medical report, a sudden job loss, a shattered family. But when life knocks us down, we can still look up—for God is on the throne! He holds our days in His hands, and He holds us close to His heart.
As I was preparing to go on a mission trip with some young people, the most frequently asked question was, “Is there Wi-Fi?” And I assured them there would be! So just imagine the wails and groans one night when the Wi-Fi was down!
Many of us become anxious when we’re separated from our smartphones. And when we do have our iPhones or Androids in our hands, we can be fixated on our screens.
Like many things, the internet and all that it allows us to access can become either a distraction or a blessing. It depends on what we do with it. In Proverbs we read, “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash” (Proverbs 15:14
Applying the wisdom of God’s Word to life, we can ask ourselves: Do we check our social networks compulsively throughout the day? What does that say about the things we hunger for? And do the things we read or view online encourage sensible living (vv. 16–21) or are we feeding on trash—gossip, slander, materialism, or sexual impurity?
As we yield to the work of the Holy Spirit, we can fill our minds with things that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” (Philippians 4:8
During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, more people were looking for work than there were jobs available. I was one of those job seekers. After nine anxious months, I landed employment as a copywriter. But the company soon fell on bad times and I was jobless again.
Ever been there? It seems like the worst is over when suddenly the bottom drops out on you. The widow at Zarephath could relate (1 Kings 17:9). Due to a famine, she was preparing the last meal for herself and her son when the prophet Elijah requested a bite to eat. She reluctantly agreed and God provided a continuous supply of flour and oil (vv. 10–16).
But then her son fell ill. His health declined until he stopped breathing. The widow cried out, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (v. 18).
At times, we may want to respond like the widow—wondering if God is punishing us. We forget that bad things can happen in this fallen world.
Elijah took the concern to God, praying earnestly and honestly for the boy, and God raised him up! (vv. 20–22).
When the bottom drops out on us, may we—like Elijah—realize that the faithful One will not desert us! We can rest in God’s purposes even as we pray for understanding.