Courage to Speak the Truth

Why is it so easy to lie? Telling a falsehood is something we all did as children, but lying can trip up even longtime Christians. The underlying motive for giving in to deception is usually a desire to protect ourselves in some way. We lie to get out of trouble, to avoid an unwanted situation, to profit financially, to receive acceptance, to bolster our image, to hide our flaws, or for other self-serving reasons.

When Nebuchadnezzar had an alarming dream, the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation: The king was going to become insane and live like a wild animal for “seven periods of time.” At that moment, Daniel had to decide whether he would tell the king the truth or conceal it. In those days, giving a king a bad report could cost the messenger his life. Yet despite the danger, Daniel held to his convictions and delivered the Lord’s message to Nebuchadnezzar.

Here’s why Daniel could speak the truth in the face of danger: He trusted God. Since he was doing exactly what the Lord wanted, he wasn’t frightened into compromise. Obedience to God is worth far more than anything we could gain from speaking lies or doctoring the truth in an effort to stay safe.

Are you willing to commit to speaking truth even when it’s costly? Altering income tax information, falsely enhancing your image on social media, or ignoring a miscalculation in your favor on a receipt isn’t worth the loss of character that comes with deception. Seeking to please the Lord and letting Him handle the consequences will always be the best course of action.

The Source of Discernment

Spiritual discernment is a supernatural ability, which requires supernatural power. In our human strength, we can rely only on what we see, hear, feel, and know in order to make decisions and evaluate circumstances and relationships. But when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, He opens up an entirely new dimension of understanding. He shows us things we could never figure out by ourselves.

The Bible is one source of spiritual discernment, but without the interpreting power of the Spirit, reading it would be strictly an academic endeavor. It is the Holy Spirit who takes the words of Scripture and brings them to life in the believer’s heart. He knows precisely how to apply God’s Word to our exact need at the right moment. You have probably found this to be true: A passage you’ve read many times hasn’t stood out before, but when you need a particular message, that familiar verse jumps off the page right into your heart and transforms your thoughts.

That’s the work of the Spirit—His job is to open our understanding to “the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The Lord isn’t trying to hide His thoughts from us. Rather, He wants us to know how He thinks so we can proceed wisely.

Then what should we do if we’re struggling to understand Scripture? The Lord wants us to seek Him and ask for wisdom to comprehend. This requires time invested in Bible study and prayer. And remember, the more yielded we are to the Spirit, the more we’ll be able to hear His voice.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

Solving Problems Through Prayer

Problems are an inevitable part of life whether a person is saved or not. The difference is that once a man or woman becomes a believer, the Father strengthens His child to face every difficulty.

Our omniscient and omnipotent God is greater than any problem. He knows our future circumstances and equips our heart and mind to withstand the coming trial. The moment we encounter a problem, we can turn to His omnipotence. He promised to meet believers’ needs and, therefore, is under His own divine obligation to give guidance and direction. Our first response should always be to call out “Father!” and pray. Immediately, two things take place: The problem’s growth is stunted, and God’s child is reminded of the unique position given those who trust in the sovereign Lord.

God always provides when we face problems. However, that doesn’t mean we should be sitting back and waiting for Him to work out the details. His provision may require an act of faith from us in order to reach a resolution. Experience and Scripture tell us that His solutions are always best, but human strength may falter when we hear what He asks of us in response to our prayers. Thankfully, He also offers the courage to act at the right moment.

Long before a crisis arises or a solution is needed, a wise believer will be seeking God in prayer. In trouble-free times, we can build a foundation of trust and communion with Him that can withstand any hardship. Problems are unavoidable, but as we seek our Father in prayer, He is faithful to deal with our difficulties.

Is Your Faith Genuine?

During my first pastorate in the mountains of North Carolina, I traveled throughout the area meeting people, telling them about the Lord, and inviting them to church. They all claimed to believe in Jesus even though many had no interest in church or the Bible and their lives showed no evidence of salvation. I feared that whatever faith they had would not take them to heaven.

Believing in vain is probably more common in the church than we’d care to admit. Some people assume they are Christians simply because they were raised in a Christian family or have attended church since childhood. Sometimes they merely believe the facts about Jesus in the same way that they’re confident George Washington existed.

However, there are also many people who deliberately limit what they believe about Christ and His Word. They don’t want a faith that requires them to forsake their sins and change their lifestyle. If asked what they believe, they may respond that their faith is a private matter.

Other people have been led to think they are saved because of an experience. They may have heard a nebulous invitation to make Jesus a part of their life, or perhaps an encounter at a conference made them feel close to God.

Today’s passage is a sobering warning. How can we be certain that our faith is genuine and our salvation is sure? Jesus said the proof lies in our obedience to God’s Word. If we are in Christ, then as He works to conform us to His image, the evidence will be displayed in our character, conduct, and conversation.

When We Feel Helpless

We love movies that capture our attention with tales of people who are trapped, helpless, and frantically looking for a way of escape. However, this is not something we want in real life. Yet when it happens, we immediately start looking for the way out and beg God for rescue through physical healing, changed circumstances, or additional provision.

Have you ever considered that spiritual rescue is even more important than physical deliverance? Although Jesus has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, there are times when we feel helpless in the face of sinful habits, emotions, rash words, and ungodly thoughts. That’s when we need to follow the example of the psalmist and cry out to God for spiritual rescue.

Admit your helplessness to God. In yourself, you have no power to overcome sin. But God’s Spirit within you is almighty.

Confess any sins, fears, unbelief, or self-reliance. Surrender all further attempts to change by self-effort, and make no provision for sinful desires.

Turn your gaze toward God. Think about who He is, what He desires, and what He has promised.

Fill your mind and heart with God’s Word. Meditate on it. Ask Him for wisdom and strength to follow Him with reliance on and submission to His Spirit.

Trust God, and wait upon Him to change you from the inside out. Although salvation occurs in a moment, sanctification is a lifelong process.

A time will eventually come when the helpless feeling departs and is replaced by the joy of obedience. When that happens, give God the glory.

God’s Faithfulness

Ever since the heavenly Father created time, everything has been in flux—everything, that is, except God Himself. The environment changes with the seasons, and in a similar way, our life also goes through seasons. Some are filled with joy, while others are characterized by difficulty. But the Lord is faithful, and we can always take comfort in knowing this.

Faithfulness is one of God’s unchanging attributes. It means that He always does exactly what He says He will do and acts in accordance with His nature. He can never deny Himself, so when He promises to “sanctify you entirely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), you can count on Him to make you more like Christ—even using the painful seasons of life to do so.

God’s unchanging nature and faithfulness are the foundation of our hope. Because He won’t change His mind about our salvation, we have the assurance of eternal security. Since He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, we never have to fear that our world is out of His control. His plans were formed long ago with perfect faithfulness (Isa. 25:1), and no one can frustrate them or turn back His hand (Isa. 14:27).

Because God is faithful, we can have peace of mind in any circumstance—even in the face of death. Although we will change with time and the seasons of life will come and go, our faithful God is always the same. Since we belong to Him through Christ, He will never forget, neglect, or abandon us. He has promised to preserve us “complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and He will do it.

A Mind Set on Christ

What occupies your thoughts? That’s a challenging question and one we should not ignore. In many ways, we are what we think. If our thoughts are focused on the concerns of this world, we will become like the world. But if our minds are set on the things above—in other words, where Christ is—we’ll become more like Him.

The point isn’t merely to think about heaven but to think on Christ, who is in heaven. When we do this, changes will start to take place:

We will gain an eternal perspective. Instead of being distracted by trivial pursuits and discouraged by hardships and pain, we’ll be devoted to living for Christ. Then we will be able to rest in our loving Father’s choices for us.

Things of the world will lose appeal. The more aware we are of Jesus, the less we tolerate sin, because we know it doesn’t fit us anymore. Instead of chasing the passing pleasures and goals of the culture, we’ll pursue a lifestyle of obedience to the Lord.

We’ll realize our security is in Christ. Right now we are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). This speaks of our eternal security and also gives us a sense of safety since nothing comes our way without passing through God’s hands.

We look forward to a glorious future. When Christ is revealed, then we will be revealed with Him in glory (v. 4). Even when everything looks dismal, we have a reason to hope because our time here is infinitesimal compared to eternity with Christ.

Your beliefs determine your perspective on life, and that shapes your priorities and attitudes.

An Awareness of God

The three commands in today’s passage may look simple because they’re short, but many people find them challenging to obey. Our lives are so full of responsibilities and activities that it’s all we can do to keep up our schedules, let alone live as these verses command. There’s only one way to succeed—not by trying harder but by focusing on Christ. When He becomes the center of our attention, our attitude and behavior will change.

Rejoice Always. The realization that our omnipotent God is constantly with us puts troubling circumstances in their proper place—under His authority. It also helps us sense the incomparable joy of His companionship, even in difficulties and suffering.

Pray without ceasing. It’s important to set aside time each day to come before the Lord with our problems and requests. But believers also long for an ongoing attitude of prayer, which, like a continual conversation, is expressed either verbally or in our thoughts. Then if a decision is required or trouble comes, our first thought is to turn to God for help.

Give thanks in everything. If our minds are set on the Lord each day, we’ll be able to thank Him regardless of the situation. That’s because we know He is with us and will work everything for our good—if not here, then in heaven.

These three admonitions are a call to become preoccupied with Christ. If we are consumed with other thoughts, it’s easy to feel irritated, worry unceasingly, and complain about everything. But when we begin each day in God’s Word, we are reminded of His instructions and His care.

Holding Fast the Faithful Word

Today’s passage describes God’s requirement for elders and pastors in the church. Every believer, however, should aspire to the qualities mentioned, because they exemplify the spiritual maturity Christ desires for all of us. While everything listed is praiseworthy, the last item—“holding fast the faithful word”—is the foundation for all the rest (1 Timothy 1:9).

To hold fast means “to adhere, cling, or be devoted.” The phrase implies not only believing God’s Word to be true but also doing what it says by applying scriptural truths to every area of life. Peter described such devotion this way: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

A consistent intake of Scripture is essential for our spiritual growth, and it enables us to distinguish between truth and error. The Bible is called “the faithful word” because it’s reliable and true. The Word of God is the means by which those who hold fast to it can “exhort in sound doctrine and ... refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

If we aren’t grounded in Scripture, we’ll unknowingly accept philosophies and teachings that will lead us astray. But when biblical truth has saturated our mind and heart, we’ll sense a red flag pop up in our spirit whenever we encounter an erroneous concept.

God’s Word is the compass for our life—not something we read only occasionally. It’s nutrition for our spiritual growth, a guide for life, protection from sin and error, and a means of knowing God better.

The Revelation of God

The times we live in may leave us feeling shaken and uncertain. We aren’t sure what will happen tomorrow—the economy could collapse or a natural disaster might strike. But one thing we can always count on is the Word of God. That’s our sure foundation in this ever-changing world.

The Bible is unique because it is God’s divine revelation of Himself. In Scripture, the term revelation refers to something God has made known to mankind—information we could never discover on our own. For instance, since no human being was present at creation, the only way we know what happened is because God has revealed it in the book of Genesis.

The process by which the Bible was written is called inspiration. God used human beings to record His thoughts. He didn’t put them in a trance, but His Spirit moved in them as they wrote down His truths, using their own personality, style, and vocabulary.

Now as we read Scripture, the Holy Spirit within us illumines our mind so we can understand what the passage means. Then God’s Word becomes like “a lamp shining in a dark place,” giving us insights from the Author Himself (2 Peter 1:19).

One reason unbelievers often reject or find fault with the Bible is because they don’t understand it. The fact is, they can’t understand it because they do not have the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). But if you belong to Christ, His Spirit will teach you the Word of God as long as you are faithful to read and study it. Then you’ll have a sure foundation in troubled times.

The Profitable Word

Why should you read the Bible? To some people, it’s just an archaic book that has little relevance today. But for believers, God’s Word is essential and life-changing. Christians living in countries where Bibles are illegal would love to have the access to Scripture that you and I take for granted.

Consider what the world would be like if God had not given us His Word. Though we would still have the testimony of creation to tell us who He is (Rom. 1:20), our understanding of God and how to follow Him wouldn’t be as clear. The Bible’s pages contain everything we need for life and godliness through the true knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3).

Reading God’s Word has many benefits. The apostle Paul describes four ways Scripture is profitable for believers (2 Timothy 3:16).

Teaching. The Bible has all the divine truth that God wants us to know. From Scripture, we deepen our relationship with the Lord, see life from His perspective, and understand how He wants us to live.

Reproof. God’s Word is a light that reveals our sins and a sword that pierces and convicts so we can confess and receive forgiveness.

Correction. Scripture restores and points us to godly living and obedience.

Training in righteousness. The Word of God trains us to stay on the path of righteousness and mature spiritually.

The end result of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness is a life adequately equipped to live as the Lord desires. With so much to gain, why would we ever neglect this most precious gift from God?

How to Avoid God’s Discipline

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Can you relate to Paul’s statement from Romans 7:19? Although sin’s power has been broken in the Christian’s life, it can still exert influence. That’s why the apostle tells us not to let sin reign in our bodies—otherwise, it could lead us away from the Lord and hinder His transformative work (Rom. 6:12-13).

Divine discipline is one of the means God employs to halt the progress of sinful behavior in His children. But it doesn’t always have to come to that. Paul suggested that the Corinthians examine their hearts prior to participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then they could correct themselves before coming under the Father’s discipline.

We can adopt the same practice of self-examination in our daily life by asking God where we might be harboring wrong attitudes or hidden sin. Then as we pray and read the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will help us see where we have gone astray. If we truly desire to mature in our faith, we will honestly confront the problem areas He reveals. This is done by confessing our sins and turning from them in repentance. But if we delay in this process, we are inviting His discipline.

Sin is not something that we can sweep under the rug and ignore. Unless we put it to death, it will grow and poison our life. The heavenly Father knows this, and because He loves us, He may forcefully intervene with divine discipline so we can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with Him for eternity (Heb. 12:6).

Seeking God’s Guidance

A correct perspective of God is vital because it determines how we interact with Him. For instance, if we think He is concerned only about the big events in world history, we won’t bother to pray about our daily concerns. However, if our view of Him is grounded in the Scriptures, we’ll readily seek His guidance, knowing that He cares about every aspect of our life.

Despite this assurance, there may be times when we are so determined to get what we want that we don’t even ask for God’s direction. Instead, we plunge ahead, thinking that He will simply stop us if our decision is not according to His will. But the Lord won’t necessarily prevent us from doing that which is not His will, nor will He always come to our rescue if we have acted presumptuously without seeking His help.

A better approach is to do as David did. He said, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). The omniscient heavenly Father has provided everything we need to live wisely through His Word and His Spirit. And as those who know and love Him, we should desire to please God by seeking His direction in every area of life.

The Lord is certainly willing to guide us through the treacherous seas of decision-making. But we must pay attention to the instructions in His Word and to the promptings of His Spirit, who is our helper, teacher, and guide. Then we can say with David, “I will bless the Lord who has counseled me” (Psalm 16:7).

How to Discern Direction From God

Have you been seeking the Lord’s guidance on a particular issue yet still can’t discern what He would have you do? We don’t always know why God doesn’t make everything clear when we ask for His help. But doing certain things can prepare us to hear His directions.

Seek Cleansing. We need to ask the Lord if there is anything in our life that is hindering our prayers. Then, if He brings something to mind, we can receive His cleansing through confession (1 John 1:9).

Surrender. If we have not fully yielded ourselves to the Lord, our heart will remain set on our own desires. When that’s the case, we’ll have difficulty perceiving His will (James 4:3).

Ask Wisely. God is committed to answering our prayers if we ask according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). Therefore, we must carefully consider if our requests align with His desires as revealed in Scripture.

Meditate. Since God’s Word is a light to our path, the more we think about the truths of Scripture, the clearer the way will become (Psalm 119:105).

Wait. God promises to act on the behalf of those who wait (Isa. 64:4). Therefore, we must resist the urge to run ahead of Him by trying to fix the situation ourselves or manipulate circumstances to get our desired outcome.

Instead of letting uncertainty cause you to become anxious or fearful, consider these five practices. Then begin to look at your situation as an opportunity to trust your sovereign, omnipotent God who always works everything for your good (Rom. 8:28).

Walk in God’s Ways

Most of us realize there’s no guarantee that life will be pleasant and easy. But when disappointment or hardship comes, we are often more preoccupied with finding a way out than with understanding how God is moving in our situation. One danger of this approach is that we might not recognize if we’ve gotten off course.

The Lord wants us to know His ways so that we can walk in them. Yet like Israel, we fail to listen to Him and instead plot our own course through life. As a result, we experience unnecessary suffering—a high price for disobedience. We should remember that though walking in God’s ways may lead us through painful valleys, His grace is always there to strengthen our faith and bring comfort and encouragement. But we forgo such mercies if we rebel and go our own way.

So consider whether your life is aligned with the Lord’s ways or aligned with your own. He always leads us in holiness, wisdom, faith, and obedience. But our ways are a result of convenience, self-interest, self-advancement, and human reasoning. The Lord’s path is always the best, and ours is usually costly.

No matter where you find yourself today, God is calling out to you, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). The imagery is that of a baby bird with its beak stretched wide to receive the food its parent brings. The Lord wants to feed you with His Word so you can learn His ways. Are you open to receiving it? More importantly, are you willing to obey it?

An Awesome Privilege

Prayer is a truly remarkable privilege, especially considering the Lord’s holiness. How can human beings, who are inherently sinful, dare to approach a holy God whose nature is so flawless and perfect that even a hint of sin is incompatible with His presence? Yet that is exactly what Christians are invited to do—to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” so they can receive help in times of need (Heb. 4:16).

Although we often take prayer for granted, we should never forget what God did to open this path to His throne. Because He is holy, a blood sacrifice is required to cover sin before anyone can approach Him (Lev. 17:11). In the Old Testament Law, a priest offered animal sacrifices for the cleansing of imperfect people (Lev. 4:1-35; Lev. 5:1-19). However, that was only a temporary solution because, while animal sacrifices covered the sin, they could never wipe it out.

At the cross, God’s Son offered Himself as the only fully sufficient, atoning sacrifice to pay the penalty for sin once for all time. His blood is adequate for the forgiveness of every past, present, and future sin of those who have by faith received His atonement. Now believers are not only forgiven but also welcomed into God’s family as a result of being born again of His Spirit, who indwells them.

One aspect of our new spiritual birth is that we have the privilege of communion with the Father in prayer because the Son is our high priest, eternally covering us in His righteousness. We can rest assured that we always have access to the Creator of the universe, who is sovereign over everything.

Trusting God in Prayer

Prayer is one area of our Christian life in which most of us recognize the need for improvement. Not only do we battle with distractions, but we’re also tempted to give up if we don’t see immediate results. Yet the Lord wants us to keep coming to Him with our concerns because in the process, we develop an intimate relationship with Him.

We may find it a struggle to establish a consistent prayer life, but what endeavor could be more valuable than petitioning an omnipotent God for whom nothing is impossible? Of course, that is not to say He’ll give us everything we request, as people don’t always make petitions according to His will. But even when His answer is no, God’s fatherly concern for His children is obvious. Have you ever looked back at past prayer requests and been grateful the Lord didn’t give the answer you hoped for? Sometimes a maturing perspective reveals that getting what you desired would have been disastrous.

In today’s passage, God draws a comparison between earthly fathers and the heavenly Father. If a human father, who is flawed and limited, can offer good things to his children, then it stands to reason that the heavenly Father, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, will give His children superior gifts.

Therefore, we can trust that even if we don’t receive exactly what we’ve requested, our loving heavenly Father is giving us something even more beneficial. Peace and confidence in prayer come when we humbly accept that we’re like children who have a very limited perspective, but our loving Father sees eternally. We can always trust Him to answer our prayers wisely.

Responding to Accusation

When conflict occurs, the natural reaction is to blame someone else and defend yourself. But believers must respond differently. Once, I was publicly chastised for a wrong I had not committed. Thankfully, the Lord enabled me to remain calm rather than react angrily. Praying before doing anything else is the best response in a crisis. When we do, God supernaturally provides that which we can’t muster up ourselves.

Spiritual discernment. The Lord, who perfectly understands the source of every problem, can give us insight beyond our limited perspective. Perhaps there’s been a communication breakdown, a feeling of jealousy on the other person’s part, or a mistake we unknowingly made. The Holy Spirit can show us how to approach our accuser and see beyond hurtful words or actions.

A quiet spirit. Our human nature wants to react quickly so that we can defend ourselves. That’s why we must first deliberately focus our attention on the Lord and experience the inward peace He alone makes available to us (John 14:27).

Wisdom. Jesus told His disciples the Holy Spirit would give them wise words to say when they faced hostile authorities. He’ll do the same for you. Ask Him to put a seal on your lips until He shows you what to say and when (Psalm 141:3).

We don’t have to react to criticism with anger and self-protection the way the world does. Instead, we are called to represent Christ in every situation by depending on Him. In responding as He directs, we bring Him glory and cause unbelievers to want to know the source of our strength.

The Expression of Faith

Have you ever heard the old saying, “Faith gives feet to belief”? This simply means that faith is the active expression of what you truly believe about God. If you have the idea that He sits in some far-off place called heaven and only half-heartedly listens to your prayers, then that will reveal itself in your day-to-day walk of faith. Your God will seem small, powerless, and disinterested.

Abraham’s actions demonstrated that he had a very large view of God and complete confidence in His faithfulness. Even though the patriarch misjudged how the Lord would rescue Isaac, it was evident that he knew God would fulfill His promise. Abraham’s faith was perfected (or made complete) when he demonstrated willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to the Lord (James 2:21-22).

As Christians, we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, but it’s by our actions that we prove our faith is genuine. When God says not to be anxious about our physical needs, do we trust Him, or do we worry about our finances as we watch the economy fluctuate? Is prayer our first reaction to a problem, or are we more prone to rely on ourselves for a solution? How confident are we that the Bible is true and God will do what He’s said?

Consider what your actions say about your perception of God. If you believe that the Lord is who He has revealed Himself to be in the Scriptures, then your life will show evidence of your faith. You’ll confront sin, pursue godliness, worship God with reverence, seek to obey Him fully, and be confident of His love for you.

Building on Christ

Have you ever seen an elaborate, masterfully crafted sandcastle? That’s one of the most delightful experiences of a trip to the beach. The best builders are painstaking in every detail as they craft these beautiful works of art. The towers are straight, the windows are even, and sometimes the outline of individual bricks can be seen on each wall. The end result is often stunning, rivaling the elegance of homes in the wealthiest neighborhoods of the world.

But for all a sandcastle’s splendor, its hours are numbered. From the moment the first grain of sand is set in place, the miniature building is on its way to oblivion. Within hours the details are destroyed by wind, rain, and the incoming tide. There is simply no future for a house of sand.

Sometimes believers’ lives are like sandcastles. Even though everything looks perfect on the outside, their life’s pursuits and activities will be revealed as worthless in the fire of God’s judgment. Although their eternal destiny is secure, they will suffer the loss of heavenly rewards because they used inferior building materials.

The most important thing in life is to make sure we have the right foundation. Church attendance, ministry work, discipleship programs, or community service are no substitute for the rock-solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We also need to build our life with faithful, obedient service to the Lord. The goal is not to have the most impressive-looking life in this world but to build one that demonstrates our devotion to the Savior who died to rescue us.

The Justice of Divine Judgment

Every person will face God on judgment day. Whenever that topic comes up, I am usually asked something like, “What about people who live in remote areas, who will never hear about Jesus?” The concerned questioner is really wondering, How could a loving Lord send an ignorant person to hell? In other words, how can it be fair to condemn those who have never heard the gospel?

To understand how God judges, we should recognize two truths about Him. First, He is not limited. While whole people groups still have no Scripture in their language, God always reaches individuals whose hearts are open to knowing Him. Men like Abraham and Moses had no Scriptures, and yet the Lord spoke to them.

Second, God reveals Himself to all people, whether or not they have access to the Bible. As we saw yesterday, He not only demonstrates His power and attributes through creation; He also programs our conscience to understand the basic distinctions between right and wrong. For those who are blessed to hear the gospel at some point, Jesus Christ is the greatest revelation of God in their life.

When people stand before the Father, He will judge them on three criteria: the amount of truth to which each has been exposed; how many opportunities there were to accept the truth and share it with others; and what was done with those opportunities. The believer’s responsibility, then, is to reach as many as possible with the gospel so that no one need ask, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?"

Salvation: The First Step

After a baby takes his first steps, the parents call loved ones. They excitedly announce the awesome accomplishment, which is the beginning of a new life of greater mobility and maturity. In the same way, the Christian life begins with a first step—salvation. But it’s only the start of a new life of increasing spiritual growth.

When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” they answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). It’s simple enough that even a child can do it, and after salvation, we are all like babies taking our first steps. A new believer doesn’t understand all the doctrines of salvation any more than a toddler knows all the mechanics of walking. However, once we are saved, we have a responsibility to learn what God has done for us and to take more steps of obedience in the Christian life.

Genuine salvation always results in transformation. When we receive Jesus as our personal Savior, He comes to live within us through the Holy Spirit. Our old way of life no longer fits our new identity, and the Spirit works within us to make us more like Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Has there been a particular point in your life when you recognized your sin and then asked Jesus to forgive you and become your Savior? If so, how has your life been transformed since then? Spiritual growth is one of the ways we can know that we are saved.

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly commended people for faith and reproved others for a lack of it. Faith is of great importance because it’s required for salvation. It’s also essential after we’re saved, as we are to continue living by faith—that is, by the firm conviction God will do what He has promised. This requires us to stay focused on the Lord. If we take our eyes off Jesus and start looking at circumstances, our confidence in Him could begin to wobble.

A good example is Peter’s experience of walking on the Sea of Galilee. He started out confident, but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and saw the wind, human reasoning took over. The apostle thought, People can’t walk on water!—and his faith faltered. We’re just like Peter when we know what God has said but try to add our logic to His commands.

Another reason we falter is that when we focus on the circumstances instead of on Christ, little problems can seem huge and start to dominate our thoughts. That’s why we must consider every situation in the light of our great God, who can handle anything and everything.

Sometimes the problem is that we can’t see God in our circumstances. He’s promised to take care of us, but He may provide in a way other than what we want. Or, we may think the Lord couldn’t possibly be in the midst of a difficult or painful situation. But He is, and He works everything for our good if we belong to Him (Rom. 8:28).

Are you walking by faith or relying on your senses and reasoning? Walking by sight brings anxiety and fear, but faith produces peaceful confidence.

Small Steps to a Great Destiny

God’s simple requests of us are oftentimes stepping-stones to His greatest blessings. Although we may view these lesser events as unimportant, the Lord sees them as a big deal. The apostle Peter is a wonderful example of a man who took small steps that led to a great destiny.

When Jesus asked to be taken out in Peter’s boat, the fisherman could have said no. After all, he’d put in a full night’s work and was probably exhausted. But by taking this small step, Peter received a front-row seat to hear the greatest teacher on earth, and he began a life-changing adventure.

Although Jesus’ first request was fairly ordinary, His next suggestion would challenge everything Peter knew to be logical. Heading into deep water at midday for the purpose of catching fish was ludicrous to this fishing expert. Sometimes the Lord asks us to do what seems unreasonable. We should remember that the Lord is not obligated to work within the realm of what’s normal or logical. If Peter had refused this unusual request, he would have missed the biggest catch of his life—and I don’t mean just the fish. This miracle opened Peter’s eyes to catch sight of his Messiah. When he got out of that boat, the fish meant nothing to him because Jesus became his everything.

The Lord isn’t waiting for us to do some big, impressive task for Him; He’s simply calling us to obey Him one small step at a time. Don’t miss the great adventure God has for you. Even when His ways seem unreasonable, follow Him faithfully, and your destiny will unfold before your eyes.

Strength for the Fearful

I recommend that believers underline Isaiah 41 in their Bible and meditate on it frequently. When one of God’s people is seeking an anchor in turbulent times, this is the right passage for the job. Here, Isaiah writes about the source of Christians’ strength.

In Isaiah 41:10 alone, the Lord promises strength, help, and protection. Moreover, He gives two commands: “Do not fear” and “Do not anxiously look about you.” Among Satan’s subtle and successful traps is the art of distraction. The evil one knows that fear can choke faith. He works hard to make unsettling circumstances a person’s sole focus. Once a believer’s attention is diverted from God, natural human tendencies take over. In the absence of prayer and worship, anxiety and doubt grow unobstructed.

Staying focused on the Lord can be hard. The flesh prefers to seek security by thinking through all possible angles. Our tendency is to weigh what we think could happen against what “experts” say will happen, and then to evaluate possible ways of preventing our worst fears from coming true. Instead of becoming more confident, we begin to realize how powerless we are. Thankfully, we serve an almighty God who says, “Surely I will help you” (Isa. 41:10). We can count on Him.

By focusing on our circumstances, we’re actually choosing to feel anxiety and doubt. But these emotions don’t belong in a believer’s daily life. Instead, let’s decide to trust in the promises God has given us. He’s filled His Word with scriptural anchors to keep His children steady in the faith.

Following Our Convictions

Most of us have been blessed to live relatively free from persecution. We may have experienced some mocking, ridicule, or ostracism because of our beliefs, but we don’t have to fear punishment or death. However, that’s not the case elsewhere in the world. There are Christians in other countries for whom today’s passage is all too familiar.

Acts 4 tells us that Peter and John faced great opposition for their faith. After being thrown into jail for healing a sick man, they were warned not to speak or teach in Jesus Christ’s name. But they held firmly to their convictions and replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 NLT).

Our goal as believers is to become unshakeable in our faith. Peter and John didn’t flinch from their responsibility to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name, even in the face of imprisonment and threats. Yet in reading this account, we may wonder how we could ever endure persecution.

The truth is that in ourselves, we can’t do it. But we are never alone. When we stand for our convictions, God’s Spirit is always present in us. He gives us the physical, spiritual, mental, and moral strength to stand firm when we are tested and tried (Luke 12:11-12).

God wants His children to trust Him with the future; He doesn’t want us becoming panicky about what may lie ahead. But if He ever calls us to suffer for Him, in that moment He’ll provide the grace we need in order to remain faithful.

Living by Our Convictions

Have you ever had to take a stand against a barrage of opposing opinions in order to be true to Christ? Or has a group of friends or coworkers ever wanted to cut corners or participate in a sinful activity—and you were the only one saying no? When the godly voice is outnumbered, it can be challenging to speak up for righteousness.

We all have convictions that define who we are and determine our lifestyle and choices. We may like to think that these are a private matter, but in reality, they are constantly on display for all to see. That’s because we live them out each day with our words and actions.

Since convictions have a powerful influence, we should examine what ours are saying about us. Are they leading us to a righteous life in accordance with God’s will, or are they so weak that our life is dominated by the old fleshly nature?

God has given us principles from His Word to guide, protect, and help us lead godly lives. These standards are like guardrails that keep us from veering off track when temptations beckon. By holding firmly to these convictions, we follow a path that fits our identity in Christ. Instead of going along with the crowd, we’re to walk in God’s will and abstain from the sins that surround us in the world.

The time to establish our convictions is before we face temptations, not in the midst of them. We need solid, immovable biblical principles to shape what we believe and how we live.

Following in Christ’s Footsteps

Much of Christianity has a distorted view of discipleship. In our desire to see more people come to Christ, we may be guilty of offering a gospel that emphasizes the benefits of following Jesus while avoiding any mention of the cost involved.

However, Jesus didn’t shy away from speaking truth. He let people know that being His disciple would not be easy, because they’d be following in His footsteps. Since Christ didn’t sail through life without challenges, why should we? Our goal should be to become like our Savior, and that means we must be willing to suffer to one degree or another.

Contrary to what many contemporary sermons suggest, following Jesus may not make your relationships better. It could become a source of contention because a true disciple’s love, devotion, and loyalty to Christ supersedes every other relationship. If what a friend or family member desires contradicts what the Lord has commanded, then the choice must be to follow Christ rather than a loved one.

As Christians, we’ll frequently be tempted to compromise in order to avoid misunderstanding, criticism, rejection, or persecution. But as Christ’s followers, we are called to live a crucified life—and compromise undercuts the wholehearted nature of crucifixion. We cannot pursue the acceptance of the world and at the same time follow the Lord. Until we stand with both feet on the side of obedience, we forfeit assurance of God’s peace and blessings.  

Although discipleship is costly, the reward is great. Jesus promises to confess us as His own before God when we enter our heavenly home.

Does God Want You to Succeed?

Is success a legitimate goal for believers? Is this something God wants for His children? The answers depend upon your definition of success. Many people define it as the achievement of wealth, prominence, or fame. If that’s what you’re seeking, then you are following the world’s definition, not the Lord’s.

In His eyes, true success begins internally—the first step is a relationship with Jesus, whereby you have trusted Him as Savior and are following Him obediently. His goal for you is ongoing growth in Christlike character and spiritual maturity, but that’s not all. He also has some work for you to accomplish here on earth (Eph. 2:10). God planned these tasks specifically for you and designed them with your personality, talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts in mind. You could think of them as your unique calling and responsibility in life.

Genuine success involves doing what the Lord has called you to do, not just occasionally but continually. It has to do with persistence rather than perfection. When this is your definition of success, you can know that the Lord wants you to succeed. And He’s committed to helping you become the person He designed you to be—and to accomplish the goals He’s set for you.

The ultimate evaluation of our success will take place when we stand before God and give an account of our life (Rom. 14:12). Any self-centered earthly achievements will be left behind. But if we’ve lived by His definition of success, our treasure will await us in heaven—along with the words “Well done!”

God’s Provisions for Your Success

Whenever our goals align with the Lord’s, we can count on His help in achieving them. This truth is vividly confirmed in the story of Joshua. Since God the Father gave him the huge responsibility of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, He also provided everything Joshua would need for success. He will do the same for us every time we believe Him and step up to fulfill the goals He has set for us.

His Promises: God assured Joshua that He would give him the land and no one would be able to stand against him. In the same way, the Lord will enable you to achieve whatever He’s called you to do, and neither man nor the devil will be able to thwart His purposes. You just need to stand firm in faith.

His Power: Be strong and courageous, because you will encounter obstacles that challenge your obedience. Such boldness isn’t something we muster within ourselves. It’s developed through reliance upon the Lord. Courage comes when our faith is stronger than our fear.

His Word: Joshua’s success depended upon his obedience to God’s Word. The same is true for us. If God’s truth isn’t shaping our thoughts, words, and actions, we will naturally go our own way and miss the path He has planned for us.

Everything you need to succeed in life is provided for you by God. But these provisions are available only when you choose to follow His plans. If you ignore the Lord and set your own goals without His direction, you may get what you want, but it won’t be true success.

Goal Setting: The Key to Success

What three goals would you set for your life if you knew that you could achieve them? Would any of them be spiritual in nature? The apostle Paul was a goal-oriented person (even before he became a Christian), and he understood which pursuits were the most important. His chief ambition was to know Christ and His resurrection power, along with the fellowship of His suffering (Phil. 3:10).

We’d all do well to adopt these goals, but they sound so broad. How do we put them into practice? First, it’s important to comprehend that a goal is a purpose or direction toward which we work. This concept is fairly easy to understand when we’re talking about specific objectives like going to bed earlier or washing dishes every day, but what steps would you need to take in order to achieve spiritual goals like Paul’s?

Success requires choosing steps that are specific, reasonable, and measurable. For example, if you want to know Christ more intimately, you might start by spending 15 minutes each day praying and reading His Word. After developing your plan and the steps to accomplish it, put your desire into action. If you don’t take the necessary steps, it will simply remain a wish. No one develops intimacy with Christ through good intentions; it takes commitment, diligence, and perseverance.

If you feel as if your faith is lacking vitality, it may be that you’ve lost sight of your goal. No one intends to slip into complacency. But unless you set some specific goals and work to achieve them, you’ll drift through life and miss the reward—knowing Christ intimately.

Praying for Our Needs

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have God’s invitation to ask Him for whatever we need. What an amazing privilege! He’s not a stingy heavenly Father, but one who loves us and cares about every aspect of our life.

Sometimes, however, if the answers we expect aren’t materializing, we may question God’s love, interest, or ability. In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reassures us that we can pray for our needs with full confidence in our Father’s provision. We are to … 

Trust in His Care. Whenever we start to wonder whether our Father hears our requests, we can look outside at His creation (Matt. 6:26-32). If God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, won’t He also care for His beloved children? 

Believe His Promise. Jesus assures us that God will provide our basic needs if we’ll make Him our top priority in life (Matt. 6:32-33).

Seek His Kingdom and Righteousness. Jesus warns against making earthly things our treasure and admonishes us to store up heavenly riches instead (Matt. 6:19-21). That’s what it means to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. When the desire and ambition of our life is to obey the Lord and reflect His character in our words, attitudes, and actions, He assumes the responsibility to provide whatever we may need.  

God’s ways are different from how we naturally think. Human logic leads us to conclude that if we need something, we should seek it, but God’s perspective says, “Seek Me, and I’ll take care of your need.” Whose way are you trusting?

The Danger of False Teaching

Throughout the ages the church has been bombarded with false teaching, and it’s still prevalent today. Since the only way to combat error is with truth, the church must be grounded in the Scriptures to avoid falling victim to deception.

The church needs an accurate view of Jesus. To hold firmly to the truth of the gospel, we must have a solid understanding of who Christ is. Though some claim Jesus was a teacher or a prophet, Scripture says He was fully God, who created everything and came to earth to save mankind from condemnation (John 1:1-13).  Others argue that there are many ways to God. However, reconciliation with Him requires that sin’s penalty be paid in full by one who is sinless. Only Jesus, the perfect Son of Man, could meet God’s requirement. Therefore, no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

The church must also affirm true doctrine. False teachers can be very persuasive and lead listeners into wrong thinking, confusion, and discouragement. In contrast, true doctrine strengthens and encourages believers by assuring them that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone; it is not gained or maintained by their performance (Eph. 2:8-9). Those who belong to Jesus need never fear condemnation because the penalty for their sins has been paid (Rom. 8:1). Everyone who is born again has an imperishable inheritance, which is reserved in heaven and protected by divine power through faith until God reveals it (1 Peter 1:3-5). 

Can you discern false teaching? The only way to guard yourself and your church is to be firmly grounded in God’s Word.

Dying to Serve: A Parable

Imagine two grains of wheat lying on the floor of a warm and cozy barn. One day, the farmer comes in and tells them, “I want to take you out of this comfortable barn and plant you in the earth. I’m going to place you in the cold ground and cover you with soil. It will be dark, and you will die. But I promise that you will multiply and become very fruitful.”

The first grain of wheat turns down the suggestion. “No way!” he says. “Count me out. I like my comfort, and I don’t want to die.” But the second one, after carefully considering the pain and discomfort of dying, decides the promise of a future harvest is worth the sacrifice. So the farmer takes him outside and plants him in the ground, while allowing the first grain of wheat to remain inside the barn.

A few days later, a small green sprout begins to appear over where the seed has been planted. Then it grows and becomes a tall stalk of wheat that produces one hundred more grains. For the next 40 years, the farmer plants all the seeds that originated from that first grain of wheat, and year after year the harvest multiplies. Meanwhile, the grain of wheat that stayed in the barn remains there all alone, never growing or multiplying—but he has stayed very comfortable.

Which grain of wheat are you? Are you playing it safe, or have you let Christ plant you in the world? The only way you’ll become useful and fruitful in God’s kingdom is by abiding in Him and trusting that His desires for your life are worthwhile.

Sharing the Good News

Can you imagine filling a ship with precious cargo and launching it into the sea, only to watch it repeatedly dock without offloading anything? I imagine silent Christians are much like this ship. God has personally blessed believers with salvation and eternal life and entrusted to them the message of the gospel, yet too few of His children are willing to share with others the good news of salvation in Christ.

What causes us to stay silent? We know that Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Furthermore, He has assured us that we will be empowered by His authority and presence with us. God is offering the invitation of salvation to “whoever will call on the name of the Lord.” He has even made it clear that our communicating the good news is the means by which people will come to saving faith (Rom. 10:13-14).

Sometimes Christians who don’t share their faith defend that choice by saying, “My faith is private. It’s between me and my God.” But that is not the model we see in Scripture. Genuine faith is confessed with the mouth and shared with the world.

Every believer has been entrusted with the good news of salvation through Christ. It is unquestionably the single most important piece of information we have, because it offers the only door to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” We have to courageously step forward in faith, be willing to set aside worldly concerns, obey God, and tell someone about Jesus.

What Would Jesus Do?

In the 1990s many Christians joined the trend of wearing small wristbands bearing the letters W.W.J.D., which stood for the question “What Would Jesus Do?” Although the fad has passed, the question is still valid. It’s designed to prompt us to consider whether our words, actions, and attitudes are an accurate reflection of the life of our Savior. 

However, before we can accurately assess whether we are doing what Jesus would, we need to have a comprehensive understanding of what He said and did, as recorded in Scripture. It’s easy to take a few verses and come away with a simplistic view of the Lord. Most people are tempted to make Jesus into an image of what they want Him to be instead of trying to see the whole picture. Yes, He responded to people with love and compassion, but He also told them to stop sinning and warned them about the dangers of hell.

If we truly want to respond like Christ, it will take more than a reminder from a bracelet. We must yearn to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). This means we must learn who Christ is through daily Scripture reading and pray for Him to transform our heart. That will help purify our life from sin and align our thoughts and desires with His.

Then, as we not only show His compassion and concern for the lost but also warn them of the danger they face by rejecting Him, some may be drawn to our Savior. And since “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV), we know our actions are in line with what He would do.

Jesus Identifies With Our Needs

We often forget that during His stay on earth, Jesus experienced need just as we do. Although Christ was fully God, He was at the same time completely human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and shortcomings. Though He didn’t sin, He identified with our suffering.

When Jesus had finished a 40-day fast in the wilderness, He experienced physical hunger and an onslaught of temptation from the devil (Matt. 4:1-2). Later, after an exhausting day of healing people and feeding a crowd of more than 5,000, the Son of God required time alone with His Father for spiritual strength and refreshment (Matt. 14:23). And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ was under tremendous spiritual and emotional pressure as He faced the daunting task of paying for the sins of mankind through His death on a cross (Matt. 26:38-39).

In each weakness, Jesus turned to His Father. The Word of God was His defense in temptation, prayer was His source of strength for ministry, and submission to the Father’s will was His pathway to victory over sin and death. By passing through every difficult situation without sin, He became our Great High Priest, who intercedes for us and invites us to draw near to God’s throne for help in time of need.

Whatever your needs may be, you can follow Christ’s example and experience the Father’s provision. The Word of God is your protection, prayer is your strength, and submission to the Father is the way to victory over sin. Draw near with confidence, and let the Lord shower you with His grace.

Things That Cannot be Shaken

In general, people like security. We seek what is comfortable. Yet the reality of our world is that much instability exists. For example, finances, health, and even a country’s ability to survive are not guaranteed.

When our foundation is shaken, we often feel overwhelmed. Sometimes Satan causes the difficulty—with God’s permission, of course. At other times, challenging circumstances are brought about by the Lord’s hand. Regardless of the source, we have the promise in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” And in either case, the Almighty’s purpose remains: to glorify Himself in our world and in our lives.

There are different reasons that the Lord permits turmoil, but for now, let’s focus on one: He will not allow anything that enables man to seem self-sufficient in his own eyes. Therefore, God may lovingly allow enough trouble for us to realize our need of Him. Consider the trials the Israelites faced each time they turned away from the Lord to worship other gods. In many ways, we do the same thing today. Individually, in our churches, and as a nation, we often glorify “gods” like money or status. But the One who created us will not tolerate this.

In our pride, we tend to think we’re able to manage without God. But out of love, He may stir up our life to reveal our dependence upon Him. If you are basing your security on anything except Jesus Christ—even something as seemingly innocent as comfort—it will prove to be sinking sand.

Unshakeable Foundation

With each passing year, the instability in the world seems more and more apparent. Natural and man-made catastrophes claim lives; political balance shifts; wealth and status come and go. It all causes us to ask, Is anything unshakeable?

As overwhelming as these things seem, let me give you an even bigger example. In today’s passage, we read that the heavens and earth will be shaken. It will all be destroyed—burned, to be exact. Thankfully, we have the promise that God will create new heavens and a new earth, but in the meantime our world will undergo great turmoil.

Instability can create feelings of insecurity and fear unless we latch onto the truths God has given us. The Bible refers to Jesus as a rock and firm foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20). And we know that God is unchangeable and sovereign; nothing can undermine or move Him. His Word is truth, and it will last forever.

As Christians, we know that our eternal relationship with God is secure. We’ve been adopted as His children, and nothing can rob us of this position. What’s more, believers are assured of an eternal home with Him. Though we may at times feel unsettled by our circumstances, we can rejoice when trials bring us humbly to the cross of Jesus, where we will find peace and safety.

What assurance we have as God’s children! We can rest in peace and full confidence, knowing that our hearts are secure in Jesus Christ. As King David said in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

The Touch That Transforms

Seven times in the book of Matthew, Jesus encountered people with sickness or infirmities and healed them with a touch. Although He had the power to simply speak a word or command illness to leave, He often chose a more hands-on approach. In the case of the leper in today’s passage, Jesus’ personal touch must have been something the man rarely experienced, since he was considered untouchable. In fact, that may be why Jesus chose this avenue of healing.

The need for a touch from a fellow human being has not disappeared in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. Yet in a world dominated by social media and technology, we are now more isolated than ever before. Physical contact is being replaced with “likes” on Facebook. And when we do think of touch, it’s often associated with scandal, impropriety, or immorality. How did this wonderful word become so maligned?

As Christians, we have the opportunity to “touch” people in a variety of ways, including by our words—for example, the proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ can transform a person’s life and eternal destiny. However, ministry is also accomplished with our hands through service, compassion, and the encouragement of a hug or loving pat on the shoulder.

Our heart, mouth, and hands must be cooperating in order to fully minister in Jesus’ name. And whether alone or gathered with others, we have the privilege of touching lives through prayer. Jesus touched people both physically and spiritually, and as His followers, we must do likewise. Look for opportunities in which God might use you for His glory. 

The Foundation of Faith

At salvation, everything we’ve built our life upon comes crashing down and is removed like rubble from a vacant lot. Then a new foundation is laid in Christ, and we begin building upon it day by day with our deeds and motives. As with any building project, we have a choice about which materials to use. They may all look good on the surface, but the real test of their quality will be revealed when we stand before Christ to be “recompensed for [our] deeds in the body, according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Therefore, we should carefully consider what we are using as building materials. The world offers us many philosophies from which to choose. We are told that we can mix a little worldly wisdom with a bit of Scripture and create a suitable Christian life. But Paul warns that if anyone thinks he is wise in this age, he is a fool. God will destroy everything we use that is derived from the world rather than from the truth of His Word. 

Building a solid house of faith on the foundation of Christ is a lifelong process. Through prayer and meditation on Scripture, we learn to know and love our heavenly Father and understand what pleases Him. As He transforms our life through His Spirit, our actions and attitudes become increasingly obedient and godly. 

With so much at stake, our goal should be to establish our life on the foundation of Christ, with righteous actions and attitudes empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such a faith house will stand firm in this life and be worthy of reward in the next. 

God’s Unfailing Love

Do you feel loved by God?  Let me ask the question a different way: Did you know that as a believer, it’s possible to mentally understand God loves you without actually sensing it? In fact, the reverse can be true as well—we may say we love God, all the while knowing that our feelings of affection for Him are limited.

There are a variety of reasons that a Christian might not sense love from God or affection for Him, some of which stem from childhood experiences. Perhaps love was absent in the home, or maybe it just wasn’t expressed verbally or demonstrated in practical ways. An individual’s personality could also be part of the equation—some people are naturally expressive while others are more reserved in their emotions.

Although this discrepancy between knowledge and experience can be distressing, there is hope. Meditating on all the ways God has demonstrated His love for you—and asking Him to help you perceive it—can begin to move that truth from your head to your heart. Remember that love is God’s very nature (1 John 4:8), not something conditioned on your performance. And if you’ve been adopted into His family through faith in His Son, God has chosen to lavish kindness on you in Christ. 

Believing and accepting that you are loved by the Father will in turn affect your feelings for Him. Commit to knowing Him more intimately and accurately through His Word, and your affection for Him will begin to grow. As you spend time with Him in Scripture and prayer, you’ll discover that the saying “to know him is to love him” is certainly true of God. 

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

An Example of God’s Love

Our society is confused about the meaning of love. Much of what is portrayed in movies and television could more accurately be described as lust or infatuation. It’s often based on self-satisfaction rather than the principles of God’s Word. This is in direct contrast to the way the Lord calls us to live—by allowing the Holy Spirit rather than our natural inclinations to control us.

The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and in today’s passage, we see that these concepts were not mere words to him. Paul actually demonstrated this kind of love by the way he interacted with the believers in Thessalonica. His love was given …

Freely (1 Thess. 2:5). Paul offered the Thessalonians what they needed most—the gospel, which could save their souls. Furthermore, he didn’t preach for profit or try to manipulate the people with flattery.

Humbly (1 Thess. 2:6). His goal was their salvation and God’s glory, not personal gain.

Unselfishly (1 Thess. 2:7). Paul’s service to these believers was as selfless as a nursing mother’s tender care for her baby.

Affectionately (1 Thess. 2:8). His love was also very personal and warm. He didn’t just give them the gospel; he gave them himself.

Sacrificially (1 Thess. 2:9). Paul willingly suffered hardship and worked long hours so he wouldn’t be a financial burden to them.

We are to show love to others in a way that stands in stark contrast to the type of love promoted by our culture. It is to be offered willingly, without thought of convenience, cost, or what might be gained.

Not of This World

“What is going on in the world?”  You’ve probably heard people say this. And as Christians, we sometimes wonder how we are to live in a culture that seems to be on a downhill trajectory ethically. Since Jesus said of His disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16), we can certainly conclude that our lives should look different from unbelievers’ lives.

The darker things become, the more pronounced should be the contrast between our way of life and the world’s. And one of the most obvious differences should be in the area of love. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul warned that in the last days (a period just before Jesus’ return) mankind would be lovers of self, money, and pleasure rather than of God and others. Such misplaced affection results in arrogance, ungratefulness, unholiness, and all the other tragic descriptions found in this passage. When love becomes distorted, these vices inevitably follow. And today we see the evidence of this all around us, don’t we?

Even the technology that makes life easier is drawing us apart. Face-to-face conversations and phone calls are increasingly being replaced with emails and texts. Everywhere we turn, eyes are looking down at phones rather than seeing the people right in front of them.

The good news is that we can make a difference by intentionally living and loving differently from the world around us. As the Lord told us in Matthew 22:37-40, the way to fight the lovelessness all around us is by loving God and our neighbors.

The Person of the Holy Spirit

If asked who the Holy Spirit is, would you say He is a ghost, a power, or a person? The Bible provides many details about Him that point to His personhood, yet many of us do not think of the Spirit as someone we can know. Perhaps we have received incomplete teaching about Him or have misunderstood translations that call Him the Holy Ghost. Maybe when we read about His power, we assumed He was merely a force. It could even be that we have focused on the Father or Son to the exclusion of the Spirit. But the personhood of God’s Spirit is clearly revealed by the Bible’s descriptions of Him:

He acts as a person—living, teaching, testifying, convicting, guiding, and speaking.

He has a personality, as shown by His will, thoughts, and knowledge.

He is called by many names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, and Spirit of Holiness—all of which represent His divine nature.

He can be treated like a person: He can be lied to, resisted, obeyed, and called on.

Believing anything less than what Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit robs Him of His glory and diminishes our understanding of the Trinity. Furthermore, a faulty perception of the Spirit hampers our Christian life because we won’t recognize the magnitude of His transforming power, which allows us to triumph over sin and obey God.

But there is a solution. Ask the Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures so you can know Him in all His fullness. He is the one who helps you find in Christ a life that is joyful, peace-filled, wise, discerning, and submissive.

Live According to the Spirit

Do you ever find yourself thinking other Christians have learned a secret that you don’t know about living the Christian life? Perhaps it seems as if they’ve solved the mystery of rejoicing in suffering, forgiving the unforgivable, conquering sin, or showing love in ways you haven’t yet discovered.

What you are seeing in these believers is not a secret reserved only for those who have gained a certain level of enlightenment, but a life lived according to the Spirit. He’s the one who is producing this amazing fruit in those who are being led by Him rather than by their own fleshly desires and efforts.

Spirit-filled living is not reserved for a select few Christians. On the contrary, it’s available to every believer who yields his or her life to the leadership of God’s Spirit. As a member of the Trinity, He has all the power, wisdom, and love of almighty God. We can rely on Him to teach us truth (John 16:13), help us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26), intercede for us according to God’s will (Rom. 8:27), and give us victory over sin (Gal. 5:16).

The Holy Spirit is a person whom we can know intimately and who continually works to transform us into Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Like God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, the Spirit of God loves, comforts, guides, and protects us. He is a friend like no other and will reveal Himself to us through the Scriptures.

Considering all this, we should gladly acknowledge our obligation to live according to the Spirit and delight in submitting to His leadership. 

The Struggle With Envy

Jealousy is a treacherous emotion. It’s poison to the believer because it opens the heart to a host of other sinful emotions and attitudes. Consequently, envy must be dealt with quickly—before it has the opportunity to take root.

 King Saul’s jealousy so warped his thinking that he eventually became an embittered fool and destroyed his relationship with David. The problem began when the people praised David more highly than the king, saying, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The king became suspicious and began watching for signs that David might be trying to undermine his royal position. Though Saul never found any actual evidence, his clouded thinking mistook any success in the young soldier’s life as reason for resentment.

Bitterness and fear festered until he was willing to take David’s life just to put his mind at ease. We could never go as far as Saul did, right? Don’t be so sure. Jealousy is a powerful emotion, and one cannot say what he or she might do if given free rein. That’s why it’s important to deal with jealousy as soon as we’re aware of it. First, we each need to examine our heart and determine if there’s anyone who elicits feelings of suspicion, bitterness, hostility, or resentment. Then, we must prayerfully submit those feelings to the heavenly Father.

Jealousy and resentment are poisonous emotions that simply do not fit who we are as children of God. Even a little venom can be dangerous, and harboring such attitudes for any period of time is too long.

Conquering Jealousy

Envy can damage the life of a Christian. A feeling of displeasure about someone else’s good fortune can also harm a believer’s witness, since it often causes people to act out of hostility and bitterness. And the jealous person suffers far more than his or her target.

Before we can rid ourselves of envious feelings, we must be willing to confess we have them in our heart. Like greed, jealousy is an emotion we don’t like to admit we feel, but the Lord already knows. We also must realize that harboring envy is the same as objecting to God’s blessing upon someone else’s life. Regardless of how we try to rationalize such feelings, we are in conflict with the Lord—a person cannot be simultaneously jealous and right with Him.

The surest way to strip away resentment is through prayer. After we’ve confessed to the Lord that we have jealous feelings, we must begin to pray for the other person. Our petition should contain two elements: first, an offering of thanksgiving for the blessings in his or her life, and second, a request that God will place love for the individual in our heart. Initially, praying in this way will no doubt be difficult, but as love grows—and it will—you’ll find the words come more easily and joyfully.

Envy is inappropriate for followers of Christ since it distracts us from the Lord. We have the promise that if we delight in our heavenly Father, He will give us the desires of our heart. So we need to refocus our attention upon Him and what He is doing in our own life.

Satisfaction for the Thirsty Soul

Think about a time you experienced unbearable thirst. You probably would have traded anything for a drink. When you finally got your wish, there was nothing that could have tasted better than that cold, refreshing glass of water.

Compare this physical need to spiritual thirst. The Lord knows our deep need for fulfillment, and only He can truly satisfy.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that we live in a society where most people feel dissatisfied? In Christ, we have everything necessary to be complete, content, and fulfilled. Yet our world deceptively tells us to seek after wealth, glory, and other empty dreams. These seem to work only for a short time, if at all. Yet we often do not recognize our actual needs. The enemy continues to deceive by telling us that his poor substitutes will satisfy the craving inside us.

Our triune God, on the other hand, is all we need. Let’s take a look at several passages from Scripture. Jesus called Himself “the bread of life” and “living water”—the sustenance our souls require to survive and thrive (John 6:34-35; John 7:37-38). God’s Word is alive, able to teach, convict, and redirect us toward a godly path (Heb. 4:12). Biblical truth, which is compared to milk, provides the nourishment our souls need (1 Peter 2:2).

All of us have an emptiness within—a longing for something more. What are you attempting to use to satisfy it? Our hearts are like a jigsaw puzzle. No matter how hard you try to force a wrong piece, it will never fit correctly. Turn to Jesus, and trust that He knows how to fulfill you. 

When We Cry Out to God

When you face a crisis, what is your first line of defense? The natural response is to attempt to fix the problem on your own. God, however, gives us a different way to handle difficulty.

David was no stranger to pressure or sudden appearances of evil. When he wrote Psalm 57, he was facing many hardships—including pursuit by King Saul, who wanted to kill him (1 Samuel 24:1-22). The shepherd’s response was to cry out to God and take refuge in Him until the calamity had passed.

Let’s learn from David’s example by exploring his words. Today’s passage has much to teach about the One to whom he cries.

First, David refers to God as El Elyon, or the Most High God. With all power and wisdom, He is the only one who can help us in our need.

Second, God is said to be our refuge. If He is a place of shelter for our soul, then we need not fear. He hovers over us and protects us when crises arise and leave us feeling helpless.

Third, the psalm expresses complete confidence that the Almighty can and will accomplish anything it takes for His purpose to be fulfilled. He’ll do whatever is necessary to intervene on our behalf, to hold accountable those who oppose us, and to surround us with His love and truth.

During His time on earth, Jesus brought great passion to His life and ministry . Therefore, we can approach Him when emotions run high. If your heart is troubled, cry out to the Lord. Know that you come before the throne of Him who is a powerful protector, capable and willing to do all you need.

The Value of Our Conscience

The conscience is God’s early warning system for alerting us to potential danger. It monitors our emotions, thoughts, and conduct.

Think of the conscience as a radar system that notifies us of possible trouble, usually without specifically identifying the problem. The principles and standards that we hold determine the sensitivity of our conscience. For example, if we believe lying is wrong, an alarm will sound when we start to shade the truth. But if we think lies are justifiable, it will be silent.

When programmed with the truth of God’s Word, the conscience has great value for a Christian. It detects deviations from the Lord’s standards and sends out a warning. The Holy Spirit uses that signal to get our attention. Then He will reveal what the problem is, give us understanding about it, and show us the right choices to make. He may guide us to friends, relevant Scripture verses, or other resources that can shed light on our situation and point out the implications of a wrong choice.

Failure to heed our inner alarm can bring serious consequences. Adam and Eve knew what God expected (Gen. 2:15-17). When tempted, however, they ignored their conscience and sinned against Him.

When your conscience sounds the alarm, do you stop and take notice or continue on the same course? Repeatedly ignoring your internal warning system can decrease its effectiveness at keeping you out of trouble. Ask God to help you program your inner alarm with His truth and sharpen your ability to hear it.

Can We Trust Our Conscience?

The conscience looks at thoughts and actions to determine if they are in line with a person’s principles. It is important to keep our internal monitoring system well maintained so it will be trustworthy. For our moral alarm to sound at the right time and for the right reason, we must:

Accept Scripture as our standard for behavior. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” If we choose to adopt our culture’s values, which are often at odds with the Lord’s, our conscience will be unreliable. Instead, we want our radar to alert us to the possibility of going off course.

Align our thinking with the Lord’s. Romans 12:2 says to renew our minds. It is necessary and ongoing work to combat what this unbelieving world accepts as true and right.

Apply God’s Word to daily living. When our habits reflect godly values, our conscience will become more sensitive to what is right and wrong.

In addition, it is essential that we rely on the Holy Spirit for understanding. Our conscience by itself is of some usefulness, but it becomes indispensable when accompanied by the Spirit’s guidance (John 16:13).

The Scriptures teach us how to live—with regard to our thought life, conduct, and emotions. As we fill our mind with the Lord’s standards and wisdom, our conscience will become increasingly trustworthy because it is based on what’s important to our heavenly Father.

Our Struggle With the Flesh

One of the most misunderstood concepts in the Christian life is that of “the flesh.” So, what is it? In today’s passage, flesh refers not simply to the physical body but also to the inner being, which is still subject to sin even though believers have a new nature given to them by God’s Spirit. Therefore, flesh refers to our entrenched habits of sinful thoughts, desires, and attitudes—which often lead to ungodly behaviors. 

Paul presents, in a painfully honest way, the results of living according to the flesh: deeds including immorality, impurity, idolatry, anger, strife, dissensions, and other destructive attitudes and actions. In contrast, a life led by the Holy Spirit produces the rich spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Why do so many people who desire a godly, self-controlled life repeatedly fall to fleshly sin? Paul says the determining factor is whether or not they are being led by the Spirit. If Christians try to overcome sin on their own without submitting to the Spirit’s reproof and guidance, they will fail.

The flesh cannot be disciplined, rehabilitated, or improved. Instead, it must be put to death (Rom. 6:11). Then, through the power of the Spirit, we do not have to yield to sinful impulses but can instead present ourselves to God for obedience to His desires (Rom. 6:12-14).

Walking by the Spirit means submitting to the Lord when you feel tempted to follow your flesh. With His help, you can see your desires give way to obedience that pleases your heavenly Father.

Assurance of Our Salvation

Do you ever wonder if you are truly saved? John wrote his first letter to give believers assurance of salvation by describing characteristics of those who have been born again (1 John 5:13). God wants us to know we are safe and secure in Him through the salvation provided at the cross to all who come to Christ in faith. A three-fold test can help you assess whether you’ve experienced spiritual rebirth.

What does the Word of God say? The best way to know about salvation is through the Bible’s teaching. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What is the witness of the Spirit? When we by faith receive Jesus Christ as Lord, the Father sets His Holy Spirit within us. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” His internal witness assures us that we are saved—regardless of how our feelings ebb and flow.

What is the desire of my heart? When the Holy Spirit takes up residence within the human heart, powerful changes occur. We are given new desires to know God and His Word and to live in obedience to Him. We now have the capacity to hate the sin we once loved and to quickly repent when we feel the Spirit’s conviction. 

If you’ve trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and can see the changes God’s Spirit has made in your life, then rejoice today as a saved and secure child of God.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

At some point, you’ve probably been asked why a loving God would allow suffering in the world. Though He is able to stop it, He often doesn’t. And while we can acknowledge seeing Him at work during certain difficult situations, at other times it looks as if nothing is happening despite our many prayers.

We live in a sinful world, so the potential for anguish is great. Sometimes we’re troubled when people are driven by the evil within. Other times the cause is our own weakness or God’s discipline in our life. Still another reason might be persecution or simply the consequence of ignoring good principles. But whatever the origin of our distress, we can be sure that if God allows it, He has a purpose. He may want ...

To get our attention. The psalmist realized affliction brought him back within God’s will (Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:71). In times of distress, we often turn to Him for help.

To develop personal righteousness in us. God wants us to mature, so He will reveal areas of our life that we need to address.

To prune us. John 15:1-2 paints an excellent word picture of how God eliminates attitudes and actions that are not godly or fruit-bearing.

To teach us obedience. Jesus, who always did the Father’s will, is our perfect example (John 4:34; Heb. 5:7-9). As we are conformed to His image, we will increasingly learn to obey God (Rom. 8:29).

Over the next two days, we’ll look at other reasons God may allow painful seasons in our life. Until then, ask Him to show you how He may be using suffering for your good.

Growth Through Suffering

Yesterday we saw that when we focus on God, we are in a better position to grow in maturity and godliness. When our suffering persists, the Lord may also have other purposes in mind:

To increase our trust. You might think the happiest people are the wealthy or famous. But the truly contented are those who are at peace with God because their faith has been tested—and they know He has only their good in mind.

To strengthen our dependence upon Him. The apostle Paul testified about how his persistent thorn taught him reliance upon the Lord’s grace and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Instead of believing that we can handle things on our own, we likewise learn to depend more fully on God when our circumstances leave us powerless.

To manifest Christ’s life in us. God wants us to be a living example of the conduct and character of Jesus Christ. For this reason, He uses suffering to sift, sand, and prune whatever doesn’t belong in our life. But in those hard seasons of change, He also sustains us, providing all that we need in order to persevere.

To purify our hearts. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God (Matt. 5:8). The purification of our heart is an ongoing process. Sometimes it takes difficult situations to identify the things that keep us from delighting in our relationship with God.

Do you trust that God loves you and wants the best for you? Decide to be more open to the work He wants to do in your life through the hard times.

Perseverance in Suffering

As we have seen, God doesn’t waste our suffering. For one thing, He uses it to draw us to Himself. In addition, it’s a tool for eliminating hindrances to our holiness, helping us grow in faith, and making us increasingly Christlike.

Let’s look at a few other ways our trials become triumphs when we trust the Lord. Through hardships, we can ...

Share in the holiness of Christ. Hebrews 12:10 explains that when God disciplines us, He does so to bring us to the point where Jesus’ holiness is expressed—instead of suppressed—in our life.

Learn to give thanks in all situations. We’ve all faced circumstances when it was hard to name something for which we felt grateful. But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks “in everything,” with no mention of feelings. Through experience, we learn to be thankful even for suffering because we know that the end result will be good.

Develop steadfastness. Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope. When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

Participate in the sufferings of Christ. Nothing was more valuable to Paul than knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8-11). But how can you truly know someone unless you can somehow relate to his life and experiences?

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognize how much we need Him. When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

God’s Loving Outreach

The story of the Lord’s encounter with a Samaritan woman is a wonderful example of His loving response to those who hurt. Jesus is always reaching out in love, even when we do not recognize His extended hand.

Although this meeting may have appeared accidental, it was really a providential appointment with the Messiah. As the woman reached the well, Jesus initiated conversation by asking for a drink of water. His direct approach surprised her and opened the door for a dialogue that would change her life forever.

Throughout the exchange, Jesus’ goal was to help the woman recognize her greatest need so He could supply the only gift that would meet it: salvation and the forgiveness of her sins. She had spent her life trying to find love and acceptance in all the wrong places. The Lord offered her the living water of the Holy Spirit—the one thing that would quench her spiritual and emotional thirst.

Like the Samaritan woman, we can at times be so intent on getting our immediate needs met that we fail to see God’s hand reaching out to us in love, offering what will truly satisfy. Only Christ can eternally fill our empty souls and provide for our essential emotional needs now.

This world is filled with “wells” that promise to provide love, acceptance, and self-worth but never fully satisfy. When your soul is empty and the well runs dry, look for Jesus. He has a divine appointment scheduled with you, and He will quench your thirst with His Spirit—if you let Him.

Left Here to Minister

Why do you think God has left you here on earth instead of immediately taking you to heaven the moment you were saved? Think of all the hardships and heartaches you’d have escaped. Imagine the joys you’d be experiencing with Christ in heaven. But then again, who would be here to tell others the gospel of salvation if all the believers were taken out of this world?

If you are living and breathing, then the heavenly Father has a purpose for you, a ministry to fulfill. Don’t think of ministry as something done only in a church building by a select group of people. Service to God is the responsibility of every believer. It’s a matter of doing the “good works, which God prepared beforehand” for each of us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).

Although the way we serve may change over time, we are never called to retire and do nothing. Even a bed-bound saint can pray for others or offer encouraging words to visitors and caregivers. A believer’s goal should not simply be to attend church, listen to a sermon, and receive enough spiritual food to get through the coming week. The goal is to serve God with our whole being, reflecting the love of Jesus through who we are. Our worship of God and instruction from His Word is what edifies and equips us to serve one another and go into the world to share the gospel.

Your entire life is meant to be an act of service to God. If instead you are living for your own happiness and goals, you will eventually be disappointed. But when you walk in the good works God has prepared for you, you’ll have the satisfaction of doing exactly what you were created to do.

The Riches of God’s Grace

Life sometimes seems like one long series of problems, doesn’t it? Even if we’re going through a relatively pleasant “season,” there’s always an undercurrent of yearning for something better. Perhaps this is what Solomon meant when he wrote of God, “He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11 NLT).

What we are longing for is revealed in today’s passage, and each benefit to believers is found “in Him,” meaning Christ.

God’s Lavish Grace (vv. 7-8). As believers, we have confidence that through Christ, we’ve been forgiven of our sins and redeemed. No matter what’s going on around us, we never have to doubt our eternal security.

A Glorious Future (vv. 9-10). Although we currently live in a fallen world, we know God will “in the fullness of the times” bring all things to completion in Christ. In that day, Jesus’ familiar words to the Father will be fulfilled: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

An Inheritance (Eph. 1:11-14). One of the most amazing aspects of our salvation is that we are heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17)—and our inheritance has already been obtained for us. We can be confident of this because God always brings His will to pass, and He’s given us the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing that we will receive this heavenly inheritance.

When our journey becomes difficult, or we’re simply worn out with all the struggles or routines of daily life, we need to remember that we are not home yet. Life isn’t yet as it should be, but God has provided His grace and His promises to give us hope and contentment.

Can God Use You?

Do you want to be used by the Lord? I hope so because that’s His will for every believer. As we saw last week, Ephesians 2:10 says God created us in Christ to do good works that He planned for us beforehand. If we are going to become useful to Him, there are three questions we must consider.

Who is God? In Exodus 3, the Lord used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention (v. 2), and then He introduced Himself as the God of Moses’ forefathers (v. 6). The future liberator of the Hebrew slaves needed to know the identity of the One calling him into service. In the same way, we, too, must be sure that we’re serving the only true God. Otherwise, all our efforts and sacrifices will be in vain.

Who am I? Once Moses knew who God was, he was overwhelmed with his own inadequacy and asked, “Who am I?” (v. 11). The Lord uses humble people who reverence Him. Although Moses knew he was insufficient for the task, the Lord assured him by saying, “Certainly I will be with you” (v. 12).

Why am I here? God told Moses his obedience to the assignment would culminate in worship (v. 12). Romans 12:1 says we worship God when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. In other words, we surrender totally to Him so that He can use us for His glory. We exist to glorify Him by the way we live, speak, and love.

Serving the Lord isn’t something that we design and plan. It has nothing to do with our will but instead requires that we know and submit to the Father, humbly relying on His strength to do His will for His glory.

Praying in a Crisis

When life is moving along smoothly, it’s easy to say, “God answers prayer.” But a crisis can bring doubt, especially if the Lord is not responding as quickly as we might like. That’s when we may be tempted to bargain with God as if He could be manipulated into acting on our behalf. However, the goal of prayer is not to get God to do what we want but to bring our concerns to Him, trusting that He will answer in His own way and time.

Waiting on the Lord is fairly easy when we’re not facing anything urgent. But difficulties and suffering tend to make us impatient. We may even begin to find fault with God, thinking that if He truly loved us, He would intervene and bring relief.

As we seek the Lord for help, David’s prayers in the Psalms provide wonderful patterns for us to follow. He faced many dire situations and continued to turn to God. Today’s passage from Psalm 86 starts with an urgent cry for help, followed by a reminder to the heavenly Father that David belongs to Him. Then he recounts God’s character—gracious, good, ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call on Him (vv. 3-5). These characteristics are the basis for trust.

Knowing who God is enables us to trust Him through the crises of life. Because He is faithful, we know that He will keep His promises. His holiness causes us to examine our life and repent of any sins that are hindering our prayers. And His mercy, grace, and love give us the comfort we need to endure hardship.

Praying Effectively

Toward the end of James’s epistle is a statement that should increase our confidence in God: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16). What a comfort to know that the Lord hears and responds to the petitions of the righteous.

The Greek word for “accomplish” is the one from which we derive our English word energy. The prayers of God’s people don’t merely drift into space but are avenues through which God does His amazing work on earth. However, He cannot be manipulated into unleashing His power—there are no prayer formulas or perfect words that cause Him to act.

What does James mean by “effective prayer”? First John 5:14 gives us a hint: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Therefore we can define effective prayer as that which is in accordance with God’s will.

What is required for us to pray effectively? According to James, effective prayer requires a righteous life. If we are harboring sin, pride, and self-reliance, it’s doubtful that our prayers will align with God’s will. We can’t hang onto our unrighteousness and expect to offer effective prayers, because sin hinders our relationship with God. Before coming to the Lord with our petitions, we must first confess our sins and turn from them.

Prayer is an amazing privilege by which God involves us as He accomplishes His will in our lives and in the world. During hardships and trouble, we come to Him in weakness and helplessness, asking for His aid, strength, and guidance. Then He answers according to His good and perfect will.

The Nature of Discouragement

Discouragement is a powerful, destructive force. Before we can understand how to rid our life of this common temptation, we must recognize its harmful nature.

Understand that discouragement...

Is something we choose. While it’s a natural response to difficult circumstances, we have the power to choose a different response. No one else is responsible for our discouragement.

Is universal. At times, everybody will face periods of disappointment and discouragement because we live in a flawed world filled with flawed people.

Can recur. Sometimes we think we’ve settled an issue, which later resurfaces when we least expect it. Or we may have old emotional wounds triggered by something a person says or does.

Can be temporary or lifelong. Refusing to face discouragement head-on can open the door for it to influence our decisions, actions, and relationships as long as we live.

Is conquerable. With the Father’s help, we can get through seasons of discouragement. He wants His children to have a rich and fulfilled life. If we trust in His promises and His character, our feelings of discouragement will slowly be replaced by hope.

Are you stuck in the throes of discouragement? If so, the Lord wants to lift your spirits. Let Him help you out of that lowly state: Start by believing that the Father wants to encourage you and get your life back on track with Him.

Dealing With Discouragement

How can we conquer discouragement? Let me suggest nine specific tips:

1. Look within. Examine yourself for the underlying cause.

2. Admit that you are discouraged. This is something that’s easy to avoid, ignore, or lie about, but denial doesn’t help you grow.

3. Identify precisely what you are discouraged about. Name it—then face it.

4. Recall the nature of discouragement. Disappointments will come and go, but discouragement is a response, and we can respond in other ways.

5. Begin meditating frequently on Scripture. God’s truth can help you accurately evaluate what you feel.

6. Take your area of discouragement to God in prayer. Ask Him to reveal what He wants to teach you in this area of your life.

7. Focus on the Lord, not your situation. Ask Him to help you see this disappointment and its lessons from His perspective.

8. View the cause as coming from the Lord. If we understand that He allows disappointments, we can find meaning in trouble.

9. Confess three things: The Father is with me in the pain; He’s in control of my life and has allowed this for a reason; He is a good God, who will not let this disappointment be in vain. Try speaking these truths out loud.

Discouragement may sound harmless enough, but don’t underestimate its power. By keeping watch, you can avoid its deadly trap. So write down these nine steps on an index card, and then review the list whenever disappointments start to consume your thinking.

External Causes of Discouragement

Whether in the workplace or elsewhere, discouragement can hit from many angles, depleting energy and productivity. To lessen its paralyzing effect, wise believers learn to detect its sources and symptoms. Let’s examine some external causes.

Unresolved disappointments. This could be letdowns caused by our own failed expectations or someone else’s.

Constant criticism. Frequent put-downs can make us think, What’s wrong with me? Yet unless God reveals truth in such comments, learn to let them go.

The feeling that no one’s listening. This can leave us with a sense of rejection.

A sense we aren’t appreciated after doing our best. We at times get so tied to our work that someone’s failure to acknowledge our efforts can feel like a personal rebuff.

Bad working conditions. Many believers enjoy what they do but pick up on coworkers’ cruelty, bitterness, or refusal to recognize their investment of time, energy, or creativity. This can make it extremely difficult to get motivated about going to work each day.

Lacking opportunities to shine. A job that doesn’t make the best use of one’s gifts and abilities can wear a person down. So can tight-fisted management that limits freedom to make innovations.

Oftentimes, it’s the people we see every day who seem to have the most power for causing discouragement in our lives. Read through the list again. Do any of the above scenarios sound familiar? If so, pray for the strength to face these external discouragers with renewed confidence and grace.

Abusing God’s Patience

Have you ever ignored a nagging sense of conviction in your heart? Maybe you rationalized wrongdoing with the thought that if God were really upset, He’d put a stop to things by disciplining you. Psalm 50:21 reminds us that the silence of heaven does not mean approval. Remaining in sin is an abuse of the Lord’s patience.

When God seems slow to react, we might hope He’s overlooking our transgressions—we’d like to continue in sin because the momentary pleasure is more appealing than obedience. But thankfully, the Father knows our weaknesses, our innate carnality, and the state of our spiritual growth, and He therefore measures His response. Motivated by love and a desire to gently restore His children to righteousness, God refrains from instantly doling out punishment. Instead, He waits for the Holy Spirit’s proddings to impact the believer’s heart. The weight of conviction is actually an invitation to turn from wrongdoing and return to godliness.

However, we’re a stubborn people. There are times when we persist in sin because the sentence against an evil deed isn’t executed quickly (Eccl. 8:11). In this dangerous situation, it’s possible to immerse ourselves in sin and harden our heart against the Lord. Then the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance falls on spiritual ears rapidly going deaf.

As we learn and understand more about God and His ways, we are increasingly responsible to live righteously. Our heavenly Father is not slow; He’s patient. But don’t abuse that patience with callous disregard for His statutes. Repent and be holy in the sight of the Lord.

Relying on the Spirit in Our Work

Israel’s enemies were clever in their efforts to block the temple’s reconstruction. First, they offered to help. What better way to cause things to go wrong than to get involved in the work? When their aid was rejected, they set out to discourage the workers and make them afraid. The opponents even hired counselors to thwart the Israelites and were successful in hindering the project.

God, however, wanted His people to reject self-reliance and instead carry out His work in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He offered them encouragement and protected their building project despite the mountain of opposition facing them. Sometimes this means He will remove the problem; at other times He walks us through it. In either case, we are to rely steadily on God’s Holy Spirit. Doing so will allow us to:

Patiently love our spouse when there is turmoil in the home.

Wisely guide our children toward godliness in our self-centered culture.

Follow scriptural principles about giving, saving, and spending in a society that urges us to get what we want now.

Experience contentment and God’s peace in our current circumstances—single or married, employed or out of a job, healthy or sick.

Do God’s work His way.

Being led by the Spirit characterizes how we work. While that mindset is countercultural and not pleasing to the flesh (Gal. 5:16), it’s the only way to live as a child of God. Seek out believers who are trying to practice dependence on the Spirit, and encourage one another not to give up.

Our Trustworthy Guide

Many years ago, while I was on a photography trip, the heavenly Father taught me a valuable lesson about leading and following. My party had been hiking on a trail for three or four hours when I felt a slight sensation of dread. I had a sneaking suspicion that we were traveling the wrong way. When I asked our guide about it, he calmly reassured me that we were, in fact, heading in the right direction.

Well, that quieted me for a few minutes, but this persistent sense of being off track simply would not go away. So I pulled out my compass and discovered that, sure enough, we were heading the wrong way. When I pointed this out to our guide a second time, he finally stopped to think about it. After examining the compass, map, and trail markers, he realized that we really were off course. We lost about three hours—and some beautiful photo opportunities—because our guide wasn’t leading us correctly.

That experience taught me how vitally important it is to trust in the person who is guiding us. Beyond the hiking trail, this holds true in business, church, families, or any other relationship. If our guide isn’t trustworthy—if we cannot put our complete faith in him or her—we’ll end up lost.

So let me ask you: Who is your guide? Are you following celebrities or news reporters? Are you trusting in politicians or business leaders? If you’ve placed your absolute faith in anyone or anything other than your heavenly Father, you’re already off course. He is our one trustworthy Guide. Seek Him and get back on track today.

The Self-Directed Man

Surely you’ve heard the old stereotype about men never wanting to stop and ask for directions. That’s probably truer than we’d like to admit, but when it comes to asking for help, it isn’t just males who are guilty. There are many men and women—all driving full steam ahead—who don’t want to stop or slow down to ask for guidance.

If you were to look at this through spiritual lenses, you’d see a world of lost, hopeless souls trying to save themselves. They think they can somehow earn their way to heaven through good deeds and hard work. They assume it’s possible to accomplish this on their own. But they’re wrong.

As you read through Luke 12:16-21 today, count the number of times the “rich fool,” as he is known, says the words “I” and “my.” This parable is a picture of the self-directed man trying to make his own way and secure his own future without help from anyone—including God.

The Father does not mince words with this man. Entering the scene in verse 20, God immediately calls him a fool! Don’t miss the severity in the condemnation. By relying solely on his self-focused shortsightedness and pride, this man left nothing behind at the end of his life—except for a pile of crops.

The message for us today is that, when we strike off on our own and initiate actions with no thought of God, we behave like fools. The Lord has a plan for your life. He knows where you’ll succeed and where you’ll fail. Trust Him to provide the direction you need.

Suffering a Spiritual Failure

No one likes to fail at anything, and a spiritual fall is particularly distressing. The word failure immediately drums up uncomfortable thoughts of a blemish on our walk with God. Try as we might, however, we simply cannot and will not go through life without missing the mark from time to time.

Most troubling to believers are those instances when we know the right thing to do but don’t do it. That’s what happened with the Israelites, who refused to enter the land God had said to conquer and possess. They allowed fear to short-circuit their obedience to the heavenly Father. But the ultimate reason for their disobedience was a lack of trust in God.

Think about a time you failed to follow one of the Lord’s commands. Did you look at the circumstances around you and conclude that it was too risky to do what God had said? Or perhaps your way simply seemed like a better approach. In both cases, the temptation began with doubts about God. Is He powerful enough to handle the circumstances if I follow Him? I’m not convinced He knows what’s best for me.

Every time we trust in ourselves and doubt God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, we are headed for failure and its aftermath. Although He always forgives us when we come to Him with a repentant heart, we may still face the consequences of our self-willed rebellion.

The Lord wants us to have enough confidence in Him that we choose to follow His directions and thereby avoid the pitfalls of self-reliance. Remember that the God who calls us empowers us to obey whatever He commands.

Principle or Preference?

Imagine driving down a gravel road on a dark, rainy night. Even the light from your headlights seems to be swallowed by the blackness as you struggle to avoid veering off the road. Now consider what a difference it would make if there were yellow lines down the middle and white ones along the sides. You’d know exactly where on the road you’re supposed to be.

These two scenarios represent the difference between a life based on preferences and one guided by scriptural principles. Preferences fluctuate with the circumstances. When this is the basis for our decision making, the result is confusion, stress, and possibly danger as we wander through life. In contrast, principles are God’s unchanging truths, which keep us on the path of His will and protect us from spiritual danger and deception.

Daniel is an example of a young man who lived by principles. When he realized there was a line he couldn’t cross without disobeying the Lord, he stood fast and trusted God instead of conforming to the pagan world around him. Daniel chose not to eat food that had been sacrificed to Babylonian idols, and he left the consequences of his obedience to the Lord.

There are two main reasons we sometimes rely on preference-based decision making: Either we want to fit in, or we want to avoid the negative consequences that could come as a result of obeying the Lord. Yet to go this route will leave us in darkness, swerving dangerously through life. Safety and security can be found only in obedience to God’s principles, which are like bright white lines on the road keeping us in the center of His will.

The Influence of Faith

In today’s Christian culture, faith is often seen as a possession that affects just its owner. Because of our love for independence and self-sufficiency, we’ve in many ways lost the sense of community and outreach that the church is meant to embody. We live like little islands in our own “personal relationship with Christ,” but God wants our faith to influence others, both within and outside the church.

Elijah’s faith influenced the entire nation of Israel. By believing and delivering God’s message, he was an example to them in word and deed. When he asked the Lord to reveal Himself as almighty God, fire fell from heaven and the people believed.

The prophet’s motive in the showdown at Mount Carmel was to draw the people back to the Lord. We usually think of “sharing our faith” with those who don’t know Christ, but our confidence in God can also encourage weak or wayward believers. Likewise, those strong in faith can strengthen us when we are struggling with doubt.

The church is described as a body whose parts are all interconnected. (See 1 Cor. 12:12.) God never intended that we be autonomous, living in our own personal faith. We are not like a bag of marbles; rather, we’re to be like a bunch of grapes whose juices blend in times of pressure.

Guard against living an isolated Christian life. Share your confidence in God’s faithfulness. Your testimony could help others’ faith to grow. If you’re troubled by doubt or fear, let go of any pride or shame, and seek help from a strong believer. Mutual blessing awaits when we reach out to one another.

The Prayer of Faith

A committed and consistent prayer life is essential for every believer who wants to grow in his or her relationship with Christ. Yet so many Christians struggle in this area. What is hindering us?

No Burden: Being diligent in prayer is easy when we feel passionate about our request. We will storm the gates of heaven when a loved one is sick, but once the urgency is past, so is the prayer. We drift back into apathy.

No Time: We’re busy and can see no way to squeeze in regular prayer time without a drastic rearrangement of our schedule.

No Apparent Answer: We’ve tried praying, but God just doesn’t seem to answer. Thinking, It’s a waste of time, we give up.

James 5:16-18 tells us about someone whose prayer accomplished much: Elijah was passionate and persistent in his petitions because he knew God intimately and believed He would answer. Past answers to prayer and time spent in God’s presence had solidified the prophet’s trust.

When Elijah first began to pray on the mountain, there was no apparent answer, and yet he continued to seek the Lord. God is always working around us whether we perceive it or not. Eyes of faith can see His presence and involvement even when there’s no tangible evidence.

God did not design prayer as simply an avenue for requests; spending time in conversation with our heavenly Father is meant to help us know and love Him. Then, as we grow in passion for the Lord, spending time with Him will be a delight, and life turns into an adventure of faith.

God Is Always With You

Craig Stowe served on a naval ship during World War II. As his vessel prepared for an attack, the commanding officer lined up the men. As usual, a volunteer was needed to ride out the battle in the crow’s nest and send pertinent information to the captain. No one stepped forward. Then, Stowe heard the Lord speak to his heart: I’ll be with you up there, as I am down here. The young man volunteered, and he endured without a single scratch. In fact, he reported that no harm even came near him.

Years later, Mr. Stowe told this story to his Sunday school class of teenage boys. The truth in that adventure made a profound difference to one of the students, who came from a difficult and chaotic home situation. He never forgot the life-changing message: “God is always with you no matter where you are.”

I was that young man. As I matured in my faith and studied Scripture, God confirmed what Mr. Stowe had taught me. I saw that Jesus stressed His abiding presence to His disciples. He knew how quickly a sense of rejection would settle in after the crucifixion. Moreover, potentially discouraging hardship awaited them as they carried the gospel to the rest of the world. So the Lord promised a Helper who would remain with Christians forever—the Holy Spirit.

Every day of a believer’s life is lived in the presence of Christ through His Holy Spirit. He comforts during hardship, encourages amidst difficulty, and strengthens in times of weakness. The benefits of a relationship with God are not postponed until heaven; we walk with Him now and always.

Who Is Jesus?

We know that most people have some inaccurate perceptions of Jesus, but this is also a problem in the church today. A survey called “The State of Theology” asked professing evangelical Christians about their beliefs, and the answers were a mixture of truth and error. For instance, 97 percent do hold the belief that there is one true God in three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. However, 78 percent erroneously believe that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Our salvation is dependent on following the One whom God sent to redeem us. Therefore, we must be certain we’re trusting in the only true Savior—Jesus—as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. In today’s passage, the apostle John describes Him as “the Word” and lists five attributes.

Jesus is eternal. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1-5). Jesus didn’t come into existence when He was conceived and then born as a baby. He existed before time even began.

He is God. “The Word was God” (v. 1). He has always been and will never cease being divine.

He is with God (John 1:1-2). The Son and the Father, along with the Holy Spirit, have always existed eternally as separate persons while being one in nature.

Jesus is the Creator. “All things came into being through Him” (John 1:3). In fact, nothing came into existence apart from Him.

In Him is life (John 1:4). Jesus is the source of all life, both temporal and eternal.

Is this the Jesus you’ve trusted for your salvation? Though He became a man, we must never cease to recognize and worship Him as the Son of God.

The Judge

While we live on earth, Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. However, as our days here draw to a close, and especially at the end of time, He takes His seat as Judge and prepares to reward believers for the good things they did in His name.

I think there is a widespread misconception that God the Father will be our judge. But John 5:22 says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” Jesus has been given the right to judge our thoughts and actions.

Christ is an impartial judge. He is not influenced by what others think or say; rather, He determines what is right and good based on His honorable, just standard, which He gives us in His Word. We’ll be stripped of our worthless works—the actions and words we used for selfish ambition or vain conceit. All that will remain are the worthwhile things we thought, said, and did to honor God. These are the valuable parts of our life, for which we will be rewarded.

Reward is the whole point of placing believers before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. Shame and guilt over past sin and mistaken motivation have no place there (Rom. 8:1). Our loving Savior is eager to show us our heavenly treasure.

Christ will expose the real you at the judgment seat by casting away the worthless things you’ve done. What remains will be a man or woman who endeavored to please the Lord. Let us determine to be powerful reflections of our Savior.

The Judgment

Every Christian is answerable to Jesus for how she or he chooses to live. But we will not stand before the great white throne of Revelation 20:11—that is where unbelievers will be judged. Instead, we will go before Christ’s judgment seat and give an account of ourselves.

If it seems like a contradiction to say believers won’t be judged but will stand before Christ’s judgment seat, look at 2 Corinthians 5:10. The Greek word used there for “judgment seat” is béma, which means “a place where justice is administered.” Those who believe in the Savior won’t be condemned to death, because they are saved. They will live and be accountable to Him.

Do not confuse accountability with giving a defense. We won’t defend our ungodly actions—those things we said and did that brought no honor to the Lord or His name. God likens our selfish works to wood, hay, and stubble, which are items fit only for the fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). The valuable thoughts, words, and deeds that serve the Lord are exchanged for rewards in heaven.
What we’ll be judged on is the quality of our work. God has given every believer an individual purpose, along with the personality, talents, and spiritual gifts needed to fulfill it. The question that will be answered at Christ’s judgment seat is, Did I live out my purpose to honor and glorify God?

Standing before Christ’s judgment seat is something to look forward to. We need not fear, since believers are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Rom. 8:34). Because of His sacrifice, we have a right to the treasures of heaven. And the Lord is eager to bestow them as a reward for faithfulness and obedience.

Shortcutting the Will of God

We live in a fast-paced culture and are accustomed to quick results. Waiting appears to be an activity of past generations.

It’s no surprise, then, that we have a hard time if God doesn’t answer a prayer right away. But when we refuse to be patient, our only option is to step out of His plan. Today’s passage tells how Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) took matters into their own hands because they did not like the Lord’s timetable.

Ten years had passed since God promised them a son, and Sarai was aging. So she and Abram decided to let her servant Hagar bear a child for them. Sarah eventually did give birth in her old age, but that lack of patience led to great strife—for their family and for us today. Much of the tension in the Middle East can be traced to two people groups: the descendants of Hagar and of Sarah.

Why would a godly couple choose a path of self-sufficiency? First, their intense desire for a child clouded their thinking. Sarah desperately wanted a son—which was a basis of women’s worth in that culture. Next, they succumbed to wrong thinking. After years of childlessness and longing, they began to think that perhaps the Lord needed human help. Finally, they believed this faulty reasoning, and both gave in to impatience.

These traps still pose a danger today. We’re not immune to strong desire, human reasoning, or the influence of others. Impatient by nature, we could easily justify taking action in our own strength. The best advice is to listen, obey, and wait. God’s timing is perfect, and we don’t want to miss His best.

Spiritual Shortsightedness

What are you pursuing in life? The answer is not found in what you think your goal is but in what you are actually doing. For instance, you may claim that the Lord Jesus has first place in your life, but are you actually pursuing Him above all else, or have you gotten sidetracked with your own desires?

This was the case with the Jews who returned to the land of Israel after being in Babylonian captivity. They had the goal of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple, but they became distracted with construction of their own homes and kept postponing work on the Lord’s house. As a result, God was challenging their efforts.

The Lord described it this way: “’You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away” (Hag. 1:9). The people mistakenly thought that they could put their own financial interests ahead of God’s and still prosper. Today they would probably say, “The faster I go, the behinder I get.”

The same thing was happening in Malachi’s day. When the people failed to bring their tithes and offerings, God called it robbery. He admonished them to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” so he could open the windows of heaven and pour forth abundant blessing (Mal. 3:10).

This principle reaches down to us today, and it encompasses more than financial matters. Peter has given us a list of qualities God wants us to diligently seek (2 Peter 1:5-11). Neglecting them for other pursuits is shortsighted, but those who practice them will avoid stumbling.

The Power of God’s Armor

Did you know that when you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you became not only a believer but also a warrior? That’s why, at the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

The apostle knew that there are enemies opposing us all throughout our time on earth—and these include not just Satan, his emissaries, and the world system but even our own sinful flesh. However, Jesus has not left us defenseless. He has provided the armor of God for our protection.

The Word of God promises that we who believe in Jesus Christ will overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5). Yet most of us would have to admit we sometimes feel more defeated than victorious in certain areas of our life. However, the tools God has provided for us make it possible to withstand Satan’s temptations and break down any strongholds he has established in our minds.

When we are dressed in the Lord’s armor, we’re wrapped in truth, righteousness, peace, and salvation and are protected by the shield of faith. And Paul says that with this shield, we “will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). Those arrows are the devil’s lies, and they can be snuffed out with truth from God’s Word.

Our weapons are “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and prayer (Eph. 6:17-18). Although our enemy knows our weaknesses and is always ready to attack, we have the power of God on our side.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

The Battle of the Mind

Do you understand how Satan works to bring down believers? Although we may think of his attacks as external, the real battleground is in the realm of ideas. If he can get a church to believe erroneous doctrines, unbiblical philosophies, and false assumptions about God, he can lead it away from the truth and into error.

And the Enemy uses this same tactic on individual Christians as well. The battlefield is our mind, not our circumstances. As the Father of Lies, he knows that deception is an effective tactic. His goal is to influence our thoughts because how we think determines our attitudes, emotions, desires, and actions. Therefore, he seeks to twist our thoughts in order to gain a foothold and wreak havoc in all areas.

Any thought that is contrary to God’s Word needs to be taken “captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). And Jesus showed us how: Every time Satan threw a temptation at Him, He answered it with an appropriate Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11). However, we can’t simply wave our Bible in the air, hoping to scare the devil away. To effectively defeat his lies, we need a good working knowledge of God’s Word so that we can fight deception with truth, whatever the situation might be.

For instance, if you struggle with fear and anxiety, cling to verses that affirm God’s trustworthiness and care. If envy is the problem, the answer is Christ’s sufficiency for your life. As you fill your mind with God’s Word, Satan’s lies will become easier to identify, and your attitudes, emotions, desires, and behaviors will align with truth.

Comprehending God’s Truth

The Lord speaks to us in such a way that we may fully grasp His truth. He doesn’t speak in riddles but instead communicates so that we can comprehend.

Now, we may not always understand everything He says to us. All of us struggle to interpret His message at times. However, we must realize that this difficulty is not because the message is foggy. Rather, it is because something in our own life is getting in the way of His truth.

Unforgiveness may prevent us from hearing the Lord correctly. Fear, anxiety, doubt, and prayerlessness can also create spiritual “static” that clogs our ears. At times, though, the biggest distraction is our own minds—that is, our human tendency to figure things out for ourselves. That attitude can create a wall between our ears and the Father’s voice, and it is a wall we must tear down.

Remember, the reason we can hear the Lord is because He put His own Holy Spirit in the heart of every person who trusts in Christ. You see, nonbelievers aren’t able to understand the things of God because they have only their human mind to use when interpreting. As Christians, however, we have the Spirit of God, who works to make the Lord’s communication clear to us.

Do you struggle to comprehend God’s message? If you approach every challenge with determination to understand and master all aspects of the situation, the answer may be yes. Slow down. Surrender your anxious thoughts to Him, letting His wisdom fill your spirit—and your mind.

Communicating God’s Truth

You’ve probably heard people say, “That may be true for you but not for me.” Genuine truth is not relative. Nor is it a part-time phenomenon. So, when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He meant it for everyone. The rock-solid principles that God has communicated should be shared with others.

We see this admonition repeatedly in Scripture. In Matthew 28:18-20, the Lord gives us what is known as the Great Commission. This is a charge for all of us who believe: We’re to go out and spread the truth about Jesus Christ, teaching others what we have learned.

Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy not only to tell others what he has learned, but also to encourage those men to tell even more people. And Paul elsewhere states that we, as believers, are “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). In other words, we are His emissaries to the world. We are to take what we know and make it known to those we encounter. For what purpose? The passage makes it clear that our mission is to help others be reconciled to God.

How can we ever doubt the urgency of this message? We have a truth to tell, and we must share it!

This week, take the time to write out your faith story, and review it so you’ll feel comfortable and confident sharing that testimony with others. Pray for opportunities to share how God’s love has changed your life. Then trust the results to the Lord.

Salvation and Sin

One of the main reasons Christians doubt their salvation is the presence of sin in their life. According to 1 John 1:6, people who profess faith while continuing in a sinful lifestyle are deceiving themselves and walking in darkness. Verse 7, however, offers reassurance to those who are truly saved: Though they’ll still sin at times, this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their salvation. Today’s passage explains how believers are to deal with sin when it occurs in their life:

Confess your sins (1 John 1:9). Confession should be our first response when we stumble and fall. It means acknowledging to God that we’ve acted in a manner inconsistent with His character and standards and are in need of His promised forgiveness and cleansing.

Know that Christ is your Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). It’s never God’s will that we sin, but when we do, Jesus is our Defender in God’s courtroom. His sacrifice fully atoned for our sin and satisfied divine justice. When we repented and believed that Christ died for our sins, we were justified and declared righteous before God.

Know that sin is not a continuing practice in the life of a true believer (1 John 3:9). Since we’re born of God and the Holy Spirit abides in us, we cannot continue in sin. Although there may be brief periods of transgression, God’s Spirit works in us to change our desires and practices.

A believer’s disobedience brings the Lord’s discipline, not loss of salvation. However, as God’s children, we should never excuse our disobedience or abuse God’s grace by living in sin. Instead, we’re to pursue obedience and holiness.

God, Our Friend

The word of God is filled with many amazing promises, and today’s passage is no exception. It’s difficult for us to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ commitment to those who love and obey Him. But look at what He promises about whoever is His committed follower: “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). 

This is the most precious, intimate relationship we could ever have. And it is stunning to realize this personal connection is with the all-powerful, sovereign Creator of all things! Here are some ways to nurture this remarkable treasure:

Pursue intimacy with God. Although God’s love is poured into our heart at salvation through the Holy Spirit, our awareness of that love increases the more we get to know Him through His Word (Eph. 3:17-19).

Protect intimacy with God. To do this, we must be obedient to His Word. When we disobey or pursue something other than the Lord, our fellowship with Him can be broken (Psalm 66:18).

Pass on the good news about intimacy with God. The greatest gift we can give to other people is a view of our friendship with God. When family, friends, and coworkers hear us talk about our relationship with Christ, the Spirit can use our words and example to awaken them to their own need for such a connection with God.

What are you doing to grow closer to the Lord? And how are you helping others to recognize their own desire to know Him personally?

The Work of the Holy Spirit

If someone asked what the Holy Spirit does, how would you answer? Some Christians may not be aware of what He is accomplishing in their life, but the Spirit’s work isn’t a total mystery—Scripture tells us what the role of our divine Helper is.

He convicts us of sin (John 16:8). This is the first step in awakening us to our need for salvation. But even afterwards, the Spirit continues revealing sin in our life so we can immediately confess and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

He guides us into all truth (John 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus Christ and God’s Word, and He helps us discern the difference between truth and error.

He fills us (Eph. 5:18). To be filled with the Spirit means that He is directing our path, much like a ship that is driven along by the wind filling its sails. This requires that we surrender our life to Him, acknowledging that He owns us and has the right to lead.

He bears fruit through us (Gal. 5:22-23). The Spirit produces qualities we could never consistently display on our own: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Although the Holy Spirit indwells and seals us immediately upon salvation, His work within each believer takes a lifetime. He is our constant Helper, who transforms us into Christ’s image and equips us for our daily challenges so we don’t have to struggle through life in our own strength. In all of our difficulties, conflicts, and heartaches, He guides our way, guards our hearts, and gives us His wisdom.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Have you ever felt inadequate to live the Christian life? If so, then you are exactly where God wants you to be, because you have discovered a vital truth: No one has the power in him- or herself to live a holy life. We are all in the same boat, but there is someone else with us who has the power we need—the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus gave His disciples the task of preaching the gospel to the entire world, they had absolutely no ability to carry it out. That’s why He told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came. In the same way, if we hope to accomplish what God desires in our life, we need to live with full dependence on the third Person of the Godhead.

The power of the Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in believers’ lives for the purpose of righteous living and fruitful service. When we walk in the Spirit, we’re relying on His strength to accomplish God’s will. As a result, we experience the following benefits:

We may get tired, but we won’t burn out.
We’ll trust God instead of trying to manipulate our circumstances.
We may experience distress, but we won’t become desperate.
We won’t become overwhelmed with discouragement or obstacles, knowing the Spirit within us will enable us to do what He’s called us to accomplish.

When we do God’s work by His strength, in His way, and with His wisdom, we’ll be blessed no matter what goes on around us. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean life will be easy—but we never have to walk through it alone, because our Helper is always with us.

The Purpose of Our Trials

We shouldn’t expect the Christian life to be easy and comfortable, because believers aren’t exempt from trials. In fact, becoming a Christian may result in increased trouble and suffering. Peter refers to such hardship as a “fiery ordeal,” and tells us not to be surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12). God uses our suffering for His good purposes, and He walks through it with us. Hope in the midst of affliction is possible when we understand what God is achieving in the situation.

First, the heavenly Father sometimes uses painful experiences to purify us. Trials drive us to the Lord and open our eyes to sins that we have tolerated. His discipline is not designed to crush us but to produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

Second, the Lord at times allows difficulty as a way of testing us. His goal is to produce increased faith, endurance, and devotion to Him. Rather than complaining, we should exult in our tribulations, knowing that they are producing proven character within us (Rom. 5:3-4).

Third, God uses suffering to display his power. Trials humble us by revealing our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). They teach us to depend on the Lord for the power to persevere and mature.

Fourth, our suffering has eternal benefits. Earthly affliction “is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Let these truths encourage you to view your next trial from God’s perspective. Though you may not feel it at the time, the Lord is with you. He is your hope and sufficiency.

The Message Parents Send

When someone asks, “What do you do?” the reply usually includes a job title. But anyone who is raising or interacting with children has a role far more important than career duties.

Parents are communicators. Yet unlike conference speakers, moms and dads don’t get to pre-plan their entire message. Everything we do and say—especially that which happens “off the cuff”—molds our kids. Think about your childhood days. What did your parents do that illustrated their priorities, beliefs, and passions?

Even without speaking, we send messages by our body language, interests, kindnesses, absence or presence, and silence. Add words to the mix, and we have a recipe for remarkable impact, either positive or negative.

Inevitably, our children will be greatly affected by what we communicate and how they interpret it. Be conscious of the way each young one processes information—sometimes our intended message becomes skewed by their limited understanding. What an incredible responsibility we’ve been given. No wonder parents depend on God’s help.

Only troubled parents—like the angry, jealous King Saul in today’s passage—would ever set out to hurt their children. But in our busyness, or because of past wounds, the messages we send might inadvertently be damaging.

What are you communicating to your kids? Ask yourself: What do my actions point to as priorities in my life? Do my children sense a hunger in my heart for God’s direction, counsel, and sustenance? Above all, would they know how to have a thriving relationship with Jesus Christ by watching my life?

The Rule of Christ’s Peace

There is one thing everyone wants, and that is a sense of inner peace. Many people think it comes only when all the circumstances of life are pleasant, but for Christians, God’s peace is available even when nothing around us is calm and ordered.

Our verse today reveals a number of important truths regarding the peace of Christ:

First of all, we are given a command: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The implication is that we play a role in whether or not we experience His peace. And anytime we are given a command in Scripture, we can count on God to enable us to obey it.

Second, Christ’s peace is capable of ruling in our heart. The word rule means “to act as arbiter.” An arbiter is a person who has the power or authority to decide a dispute. When doubts or worries arise, Christ’s peace reminds us of God’s truths, which have the power to quiet our heart and renew our trust in Him. This amazing peace also overflows into our relationships in the body of Christ so that we can live in harmony with one another.

Third, gratitude is an important aspect of peace. Thankfulness is the result of remembering all God’s benefits instead of dwelling on the circumstances that tend to rob us of peace. Counting our blessings in this way insures the rule of Christ’s peace in our life.

We don’t have to let our concerns and worries bury us in a sea of unrest. Christ’s peace, which is available no matter what we are facing, can strengthen our confidence and trust in Him.

God’s Plan for Giving

All of God’s commands have good purpose, and that is certainly true when He tells us to give. It is one way He teaches His children to live as Christ did. Jesus was a giver. In addition to generously feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, and offering truth to everyone who would listen, He ultimately gave up His life on the cross to save all who would believe in Him.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). This scripture contains two guidelines that can help us become the generous people God wants us to be.

1. Giving is a component of worship. When we gather together each Sunday, we have the privilege of giving back to the Lord part of what He has provided. In doing so, we are reminded of our dependence upon Him and His faithfulness to us. This practice is a way of recognizing God’s kindness, expressing our gratitude, and showing Him honor.

2. Giving is best done systematically. If we don’t purposefully plan to reserve a portion for the Lord, it will probably be spent on other things. Immediately setting a portion aside is a better way to honor our heavenly Father than waiting and giving Him leftovers.

Considering the greatness of our salvation and the continual blessings God showers on us each day, we should delight in being openhanded givers. Generosity shows we’re following in Christ’s footsteps and demonstrating trust for Him in a very practical way. 

The Privilege of Giving

When the offering plate is passed, do you enthusiastically support God’s work, or are you a reluctant giver? Just as our heavenly Father wants us to be full of faith, wisdom, and love, He also desires that we abound in gracious, cheerful generosity (2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

We could all learn from the Macedonian Christians of Paul’s day. Despite their own poverty, these believers begged for the privilege of giving to the needs of the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:4). They apparently saw the weekly offering the way God does—not as a separate event from the worship service but as an essential part of following Jesus.

For many believers, the tithe has been seen as the standard for giving. This concept originated in the Old Testament when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils from battle (Gen. 14:18-20). Tithing, which was God’s requirement for the Israelites, was like a national tax. In fact, the nation had three tithes—one for support of the priests and Levites (Num. 18:24), one for the temple and feasts (Deut. 14:22-27), and one given every three years to benefit the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). Today this would be equivalent to our offerings that pay the pastors and staff, provide for the ministry and maintenance of the church, and help those in financial need.

Abounding in generosity looks different for each person. What’s important is that giving is voluntary (2 Corinthians 8:8), modeled after Christ’s example (2 Corinthians 8:9), motivated by a desire to give (2 Corinthians 8:10), and based on what one has (2 Corinthians 8:12). As you give yourself fully to the Lord, generosity will overflow.

God’s Response to Bountiful Giving

Have you ever tried to count your blessings? No matter how long a list you could compile, it would barely scratch the surface. Only the Lord can reveal to us all the ways He has provided, guided, and blessed us. But Scripture helps us recognize amazing blessings that are ours in Christ.

For example, today’s passage teaches that we don’t lose anything by being generous. God calls us to give cheerfully, not grudgingly; bountifully, not sparingly; and voluntarily, not under compulsion. When we do, He responds with abounding grace that overflows in our life (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

God’s grace …

Flows to us. Our Father promises us sufficiency in everything as He supplies our needs, provides more for us to give, and increases our righteousness. In fact, He says we will be enriched in everything for our generosity (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Reaches out to others. When needs around us are met through our generosity, some people will begin to correlate our giving with obedience to God. As a bond of fellowship is formed, they may respond by praying for us (2 Corinthians 9:13-14).

Brings glory to Him. We are not the heroes in the story; the Lord is. Our obedience and dependence on Him demonstrate that He alone is the one who provides us with the means to give. And those who receive our gift will glorify God, who is the ultimate source of their provision (2 Corinthians 9:13). 

Don’t allow human reasoning or the fear of not having enough prevent you from experiencing God’s abounding grace, which He showers on those who obey Him.

Standing Tall Through Prayer

Nehemiah spent time praying on his knees. When he needed guidance, strength, provision, or protection, he responded with prayer. Because of this attitude of dependence, God was able to use Nehemiah to achieve His divine purposes.

This is also true for believers today. God will use us if we seek Him and make ourselves available. He wants His children to be a part of His work and has a purpose for each of us.

If you want to follow Nehemiah’s example of dependent prayer, first recognize God as the sovereign Ruler of the universe (Neh. 1:5). Although He’s our loving Father and loyal Friend, we must never forget that He is also our high and exalted Creator, whose holiness is beyond our comprehension. We don’t want to casually think of Him as “the man upstairs” or come into His presence in a frivolous manner.

As one who respected God’s holiness, Nehemiah approached Him with confession, admitting not only his own sin, but his father’s and Israel’s as well (Neh. 1:6-7). We cannot hide, deny, or cherish sin and expect the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. Purity of heart and the power of God are linked. We need the Holy Spirit to help us remain sensitive to sin and be willing to deal with it immediately.

The reason Nehemiah stood so tall had nothing to do with his natural abilities; rather, it was because he had developed a relationship of dependency on the Lord through prayer. The same can be true for you. Rely on the Lord, and let Him be your strength.

Dealing With Anger

Christians are called to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (Col. 3:8). The command is clear, but the process of achieving and maintaining this goal may seem confusing and overwhelming.

The first step is to recognize anger in our heart. This may seem unnecessary to those who are naturally expressive, but people who bury their anger deep within will need to spend time with the Lord in reflection and soul-searching. Resentment that’s been growing and infecting the heart can do great damage; the sharp sword of God’s Word is needed to reveal anger that has been simmering under the surface (Heb. 4:12).

The next step is to confess unrighteous anger as sin and then begin to deal with it immediately. Because anger is often a response to hurt, care must be taken not to excuse or defend it in the name of justice. So even when someone has sinned against you, it’s important to realize that holding onto anger in response is also a sin. Scripture tells us to overcome evil with good, not to repay it (Rom. 12:17; Rom. 12:21).

Some people want to hang on to ill feelings, but nursing a resentful attitude isn’t sustainable; anger must be put aside. If we retain our “right” to hold grudges, we can’t expect to live in the new nature Christ has created for us.

The place where we will find strength is in that new Christlike personality. Our responsibility is to put it on. He invites us to cooperate with Him in the process of transformation. With each step of obedience, the peace of Christ will increase and anger will diminish.

Godly Responses to Anger

We live in a fallen world where sin is rampant, injustice is common, and conflicts abound. So there are plentiful opportunities to sin in anger. Although we cannot change many of these situations, altering our responses to them is possible.

Situations like struggling economies and natural disasters cause widespread frustration, but difficulties with people can present challenges on a more personal level. When hurt by someone’s words or actions, we may be tempted to hurl a caustic reply or simmer with resentment. Yet as believers, we’re to follow Jesus’ example: “While being reviled, He did not revile in return ... but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Today’s verses from the book of Proverbs emphasize the value of being slow to anger. This is especially important when facing a verbal attack. Quiet listening protects us from speaking rashly and offers the opportunity to ask God for help in responding as Christ would.

A calm, gentle reply can defuse a tense situation, but without taking time to process what was said, few of us will be able to answer wisely. When we are slow to anger, we can gain understanding of the situation and the hidden motives that a hot-tempered person can’t objectively comprehend.

Such a response is unnatural, but that shouldn’t surprise us since the One who modeled it is supernatural. Our priorities need to change if we’re to emulate Jesus. Love and understanding must supersede the need to defend ourselves, and preserving the relationship must replace safeguarding our rights. So be calm in all situations, and let Christ be your defender and protector.

The Greatness of Our Salvation

Salvation is simple enough for a child to understand, but it’s also so profound that we can’t plumb its depths. One thing we can know for certain is that it’s a work of God, whereby He regenerates a spiritually dead sinner into a new creation filled with the life of Christ.

Peter wrote his first letter to believers who needed encouragement because they were suffering persecution for their faith. He assured them, and us, with the following truths:

God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). If we set our hope on the things in this life, we will be disappointed because this is a fallen world, which groans with the effects of sin. As believers, however, we have new life and a living hope that transcends this world.

We have an imperishable inheritance reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). Worldly investments and retirement plans can be decimated in a moment. But as heirs with Christ, we have a heavenly inheritance that’s being kept safe by God Himself.

We are protected by the power of God through faith for a future salvation (1 Peter 1:5). As God’s own children, we never have to fear the loss of our salvation, because our almighty Father keeps us in Christ. And we also have the guarantee of a future bodily resurrection when Jesus returns.

In trying or painful times, we need a hope that reaches beyond our circumstances—which is exactly what we have in Jesus Christ. From beginning to end, in life and death, we are held safely by God.

The Proof of Our Salvation

Nobody likes adversity. But if you’re a believer, difficulties and suffering are valuable because they can strengthen your faith and prove it is genuine. Unfortunately, many churchgoers today continually wonder whether they ever actually received salvation. Even scriptural assurances of eternal security may bring no comfort to people who aren’t sure they are saved.

Using an illustration of seed sown on different kinds of soil (Matt. 13:18-23), Jesus told a parable about various responses to the gospel. He described one of the soils as rocky, likening it to someone who initially receives the good news with joy. But on encountering trials, the person falls away because superficial trust in Christ often fades when tested by hardship.

In contrast, Peter says that when professing believers are beset by trials yet remain steadfast in the Lord Jesus, their faith is proved genuine. The result is confidence in their salvation, and with each new trial, assurance and trust in Christ grows. Their continued perseverance is the fruit of salvation that demonstrates they are abiding in Him (John 15:5). 

That’s why we can rejoice even in our sufferings—because through them, God is assuring us of our salvation and conforming us to His image. Knowing this should give us hope and encouragement to continue the process of sanctification, because we have confidence that our salvation will be completed with the resurrection of our bodies.

The next time you face trouble, remember God wants you to know that your salvation is genuine. So hold tightly to Christ and keep trusting Him.

Good Decisions

The familiar expression “You reap what you sow” is reinforced throughout Scripture (Job 4:8; Prov. 11:18). In today’s passage, Esau learned this truth the hard way. Famished, he returned from hunting and requested a bowl of the stew his brother was cooking. Jacob seized upon the opportunity and agreed to share the food in exchange for his older twin’s birthright.

In Old Testament times, the firstborn son enjoyed special privileges, which included authority over younger siblings, a double share of the inheritance, and the honored position as spiritual leader over the family. Yet Esau, deciding that food was more of a necessity right then, traded his birthright for dinner. He later grieved when he realized what was lost, but at that point, it was too late. Like Esau, we at times all face critical choices. While God offers forgiveness for wrong decisions, the consequences remain. So we must learn to choose wisely.

We should take to heart two warnings from this story. First, to distinguish our best options, we need to assess whether we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually stable; if not, we should wait. Otherwise, we might end up like Esau, who allowed hunger to cloud his thinking. Second, delaying gratification is usually a safe choice. For example, though a person may be eager to buy a car, it’s wise to shop around for the best deal. Our human desires can feel overwhelming at times, but we should prayerfully wait for God’s timing.

Think about the longings you have, consider the consequences, and take your time. God wants to steer you away from unnecessary trouble.

Godly Decisions

Any ungodly act—whether it involves lying to a friend, manipulating coworkers to get ahead, or stealing from another person—places emphasis on gratification at any cost. The seemingly ordinary choices involved in such an act can affect the rest of our life. To avoid sacrificing something worthwhile for something with no lasting value, we should guard against these attitudes and actions:

Allowing appetites to rule us—Everyone has inborn needs, such as the desire for food and sleep. While these are natural and God-given, they can become the driving force in our life if we aren’t careful. Believers should have the spiritual fruit of self-control, which governs our yearnings (Gal. 5:22-23).

Being blind to what’s truly valuable—God’s priorities are totally different from what the world considers important. Unless we guard our heart (Prov. 4:23), we can easily be distracted by pursuits with no lasting worth.

Failing to consider consequences—Adam and Eve didn’t contemplate what might ultimately happen if they ate the forbidden fruit; they focused solely on the immediate benefit (Gen. 3:1-19). Nor did Samson think about the repercussions of his interactions with Delilah, and he paid dearly (Judg. 16:16-23). How easy it is to make a rash decision because the immediate benefits seem attractive! The Lord wants us to instead pause, pray, and seek His wisdom before we act.

What decisions are you currently facing? Prayerfully consider what is driving you, and before making choices, think about the potential effects of your actions.

Walking by Faith

Christians generally associate faith with their salvation experience, and rightly so. By believing in Christ, we enter into a relationship with Him. But that’s not the end—after that initial decision comes a lifetime of walking with Him.

Since the word walk is used to describe behavior and conduct, we may mistakenly conclude that after salvation, the Christian life is all about performance. But today’s verses clearly state that we walk with Christ in the same way we received Him—by faith. This means we place our trust in Him for every circumstance of life. To help us understand this, Paul uses some phrases in verse 7 that describe how confidence in God grows:

“Having been firmly rooted”—At the moment of salvation, believers are planted in Christ. As we anchor ourselves in the Lord, our roots grow deep, drawing spiritual nourishment from Him.

“Being built up in Him”—Through obedience, the believer’s life is built on the foundation of the Savior. God wants us to choose precious and valuable building materials that will last into eternity (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

“Established in your faith”—As we begin to understand more about the Lord and how He operates, our trust in Him increases. Then we experience stability, even in the winds of adversity.

In our goal-oriented society, it’s easy to forget that walking in Christ is a process. While on earth, we never “arrive” but are slowly transformed along the way. As we trust the Lord, our hearts will overflow with gratitude for all His blessings and the stability He offers in every circumstance.

Dealing Wisely With Temptation

Temptation will be with us as long as we live. Although the areas of enticement and their power over us will change with time, we will never be so mature or spiritually minded that we can totally relax our vigilance against them. Satan is always ready to capitalize on our weaknesses and selfish desires to draw us away from the heavenly Father. 

James says we are tempted when we are carried away by our own lusts. Therefore, the problem begins within us when we feel the pull of our flesh to think, speak, or do what is contrary to God’s standard of holiness. Although being tempted is not a sin in itself, yielding to it is. When we dwell on a tempting thought, the idea gains a foothold in our mind and desires. With more attention, the desire will grow until a choice must be made about whether or not to act.

At the same time, we shouldn’t think that holding onto sinful desires is fine as long as we don’t actually do anything. Jesus debunked this idea in the Sermon on the Mount when He enlarged the Law’s commandments to include not just actions but also attitudes of the heart (Matt. 5:21-48). Anything less than God’s standard of holiness is not His will for us (Matt. 5:48).

Temptations start small. Yielding to them may seem inconsequential, but once we give in, that sin gains strength in our life and our ability to resist grows weaker. It may seem as if there’s no way out of this downward spiral, but God has given us a way of escape if we choose to seek out His help (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Courage to Obey

Daniel is a great example of living with scriptural convictions even when doing so could put one’s life at risk. His experience in the lions’ den took place when he was old, but it wasn’t the first time he’d chosen to obey God rather than man. In fact, standing for his convictions had become the pattern rather than the exception of his life.

A look at Daniel’s life reveals the fruit of living in faithful obedience to God.

He had wisdom beyond his years. After Daniel stood up for his convictions regarding food, the Lord gave him greater knowledge, wisdom, and understanding than all the king’s other advisors (Dan. 1:17-21).

God granted him favor with the kings. Instead of persecuting him for speaking truth, kings promoted Daniel to the highest place of authority, even though he was a Jewish foreigner (Dan. 2:46-48).

His obedience presented opportunities to speak about God. If Daniel had chosen to blend into the culture, the Babylonian and Persian kings probably wouldn’t have noticed him. But since he didn’t back down from his convictions, the phrase “the God of Daniel” echoed in the chambers of those kingdoms, and God was glorified (Dan. 6:26).  

God used him to write Scripture. Daniel was a trustworthy and obedient servant in the midst of a pagan culture, and God revealed amazing future prophesies in the book he penned. (See chapters 7-12.)

Although we may not stand before kings in palaces or lions in a den, we too can be used by God when we practice uncompromising obedience to Him.

Spiritually Shortsighted

An old gospel song says, “This world is not my home / I’m just a-passing through. / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a good reminder for all of us that this life is not the end goal. As Christians, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and are not to love this world or what it offers (1 John 2:15). In fact, to do so makes us enemies of God (James 4:4).

In today’s passage Jesus tells a story about a rich man who lived for himself and ignored the Lord. He was a success by earthly standards but discovered too late that his riches and comfort were only temporary. After death, he experienced the consequences of his choices—eternal separation from the Lord.

It’s important to realize that this man wasn’t judged harshly by God because of his wealth. The rich man’s mistake was that he prepared everything for the body but nothing for the soul. Our culture practices a similar style of living. Acquiring material riches and satisfying oneself is the primary pursuit of many in our world. In fact, fulfilling personal desires seems to be the goal whether one’s bank account is overflowing or nearly empty. 

Despite what our culture thinks, this life is not about us. It’s about being reconciled to God. Whoever repents of sin and turns to Christ for salvation will live eternally with Him in heaven. But those who reject or simply ignore the Lord will suffer eternally. Death comes to all of us, and we never know when. Therefore, if you haven’t trusted Christ as Savior, do so today. Your eternal destiny is at stake. 

The Heart of Spiritual Maturity

People will ask, “What can I do to really grow as a Christian?” Often they are looking for a secret path to maturity—some action they can perform. But the true key to growing in your relationship with Christ isn’t based on service or knowledge or any other outward accomplishment the world tends to admire.

Genuine maturity and effectiveness hinge upon your heart relationship with the Lord, rather than something you can do for Him. When you understand this truth, your whole paradigm shifts. It puts all Christians on the same level, from the high-profile preacher to the quietest member of the church. The believer’s talents, accomplishments, and personality are far less important than the commitment to simply know God.

The Lord called David “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV). What was it about him that God valued so highly? He certainly had his share of mistakes, sins, and character flaws. Yet more than anything else, what characterized his life was that he sought to know the Lord. Whether he was a shepherd, fugitive, warrior, or powerful king, the time he spent with his heavenly Father was his lifeline. In psalm after psalm, David laid everything before the Lord—and wholeheartedly longed to do His will. This was his greatest strength.

Do you want to grow spiritually and be transformed in your everyday faith walk? Take a step beyond asking, “What can I do for God so that I can be a better Christian?” Instead, come before the Lord and say, “Here I am. You have full access to my heart.”

The Believer’s Struggle

Sometimes people think that life will be smooth sailing after salvation, only to discover they have even more struggles than before. However, this is normal for a Christian. Before meeting the Savior, we were drifting aimlessly with the culture, and there was no inner conflict between God’s desires and ours. But after salvation, we began an upstream journey called sanctification.

Some people thought they were signing up for a Savior who’d give them what they want, but since it’s tough to be in perpetual conflict, they quickly give up and drift back to the world. Those who’ve counted the cost and surrendered to Christ as Lord, however, aren’t left on their own to do the best they can—that would never work, because human efforts cannot overcome sin. What’s needed is divine empowerment, which is exactly what we have in the person of the Holy Spirit, who came to live within us at the moment of salvation.

In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul warns us not to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to drift back into sin and worldliness. Instead, we are to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Though we’ll struggle, believers should seek to move toward holiness and Christlikeness through the power of the Holy Spirit. This means we are continually living in conflict with the tendencies of our flesh.

Every day we grapple with sins like jealousy, strife, lust, selfishness, and pride. Yet at the same time, we can learn to walk by the Spirit, who empowers us to set aside these fleshly desires. By fully submitting to Him, we can walk in victory over sin and self.

Contending With the Flesh

As you read today’s passage, did you see the conflict presented in it? The apostle Paul is explaining that even though believers struggle with sin, we are no longer “in the flesh,” because God’s Spirit dwells in us (Rom. 8:9). The word flesh signifies the natural part of each person that desires to operate in opposition to God. That’s why Paul says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

Even though Christians have been freed from the domination of the flesh and now have the Holy Spirit, the conflict is not over—that’s because our old fleshly patterns have not been eradicated. However, we don’t have to succumb to living by them. In fact, we are “under obligation” to put the deeds of the flesh to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13).

To fight this battle, we need powerful spiritual weapons, and that’s exactly what the Lord has given us. In Ephesians 6:10-17, we find the full armor of God, which helps us stand firm and guards our mind and heart with truth. We have the shield of faith to extinguish Satan’s lies and the Word of God as our weapon against temptation.

Romans 13:14 tells us, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust.” Are you using the resources that the Lord has provided to help you put to death those sinful desires and deeds of the flesh? Since the battle begins in the mind, that’s the place to start. As you reprogram your thoughts with God’s Word, your desires and deeds will follow suit.

New Creatures in Christ

At the moment of salvation, a person becomes a new creature in Christ. Some of us may have felt the change as the burden of sin was lifted and replaced with forgiveness and hope. But what if we didn’t feel anything? Are we still saved?

Salvation is a result of hearing the gospel and responding in repentance and faith. Emotion may accompany the transformation but doesn’t determine its validity. Becoming a new creation involves much more than our emotions:

A New Position. Before salvation, we were enemies of God, but through Christ’s death on our behalf, we have been reconciled to Him and have become His beloved children. With His death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins. And what’s more, His righteousness was then credited to us in a legal transaction the Bible calls justification.

A New Presence. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit took up residence within us. He works to transform us in a process called sanctification, whereby we become increasingly righteous in practice.

A New Power. Because we still struggle with sin and selfishness, living up to God’s standard is beyond our own abilities. But when the Holy Spirit came into our life, He brought with Him the power of almighty God, which enables us to become and do whatever He desires.

What we have now is the seed of what we will eventually become. Although at present it’s difficult to discern the changed life of a Christian, it will be evident when Jesus returns and brings our bodies into conformity with His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

True Worship

Most of us go to church on Sundays to worship God, but is worship truly what we are doing? Often we associate the word with music in a service, but its meaning involves much more than that. An adequate definition may be difficult to express concisely, but think of worship this way: When one’s mind is occupied with thoughts of God, the heart overflows in an outpouring of awe, adoration, and praise to Him.

It’s helpful to notice the order so that our expressions of worship may be most pleasing to God—starting in the mind, moving to the heart, and working itself out in words and action. Therefore, the accuracy of our perception of God determines the validity of our response.

In other words, it’s essential to pay attention to what God has revealed about Himself. And that’s why the Lord spoke to the Israelites shortly after delivering them from Egyptian bondage—they needed to understand who He was so they could worship Him appropriately.

Today we have more revelation about God than they did, because He’s given us His inspired Word and His Son Jesus. Yet even an entire lifetime spent studying the Scriptures would give us only a glimpse of our infinite, transcendent, eternal, all-powerful Father. However, the more we seek to understand and know Him, the deeper and more meaningful our worship will be.

We all need to grow in this area, and the best way to begin is in our private time with the Lord. Each time you read a Bible passage about Him, let it take root in your mind, overflow to your heart, and pour out in worship.

Guided by Conscience

Human beings are born with a marvelous gift from God—a conscience. Since its warnings can cause discomfort, you perhaps have never thought of it as a blessing. But the Lord had our benefit and protection in mind when He created this internal witness to our moral conduct. By listening to its promptings, we are guarded from making choices that could hurt us or others.

But can you rely on your conscience to offer guidance about all decisions?  God made the conscience to act as an alarm system to warn and protect us from sin. However, many of our choices are not moral issues, so we need an even more reliable source for direction.

That’s why the Lord has provided believers with the Holy Spirit, who accurately leads us in any kind of decision we must make. He not only works through the conscience to make us aware of sin, but He also helps us choose between good and best. As we listen to His voice and heed His warnings, He purifies and sharpens our conscience so that it aligns more precisely with the Word and will of God.

One problem is that the conscience has the capacity to be shaped by our responses. When we repeatedly reject or ignore its promptings, we can damage its dependability, and then sins that should bother us might not even register. But heeding its warnings make it sharper and more sensitive, protecting us even more effectively. Knowing this, let’s ask for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment so we will heed the promptings of our conscience.

Differing Convictions

Although eating meat offered to idols is not a controversial subject today, 1 Corinthians 8 could cause us to wonder if God has double standards for Christian behavior. How can we reconcile differing convictions among believers?

First, we must acknowledge that some moral truths are evident to everyone. These are fixed and will not change, regardless of the situation. But other convictions are based on knowledge or beliefs. These will vary from person to person.

The conscience isn’t static. Rather, it grows according to the truth one hears and receives. When you first became a Christian, you probably had no hesitation about activities, thoughts, or attitudes that you now consider unacceptable. As your knowledge of God and His Word has grown, so has your conscience. Since we all mature at different rates, each person’s conscience is based upon his or her own understanding and personal weaknesses. In these variable areas, what is wrong for one believer may be acceptable for another.

So how are we to live with those whose convictions may not match ours? We must first realize that it is not our job to convict or judge them. The Holy Spirit guides each believer in the way he or she should go.

What a marvelous display of God’s love for us. He designs a path for each life and gives a conscience with sensitivity based upon His intimate knowledge of that individual. Our job is to grow in truth, listen for His personalized direction, and support fellow believers in their walk.

Failing to Listen to God

Today’s passage offers a picture of what can happen when believers don’t listen to God. Eve knew the Lord’s instructions so well that she repeated them almost verbatim to the serpent. However, pride and desire got the better of her, and she was deceived. Eve stopped listening to God and opened her ears to the wrong voice.

Think about how many voices we hear in a given day. Articles, podcasts, and even friends and family bombard our minds with ideas and philosophies. We hear superficial messages wrapped up in pretty language. It’s easy to fall prey to deception unless we renew our mind with God’s Word.

Eve got into trouble simply by pausing long enough to take in the serpent’s words. Satan twisted God’s meaning sufficiently to tempt her away from truth and into error. He assured Eve that instead of falling over dead, she would become like God: Her eyes would open, and she would know truth!

In one way, Satan’s words were accurate, but they weren’t true. Eve’s eyes were opened; however, the knowledge wasn’t as wonderful as the serpent implied. She was awakened to her own sinful nature and the chasm that had developed between her and God. Moreover, Eve’s physical body would undergo death as a result of her sin.

Exercise caution when messages vie for your attention. Satan, who is as crafty today as he was in Eden, dresses up deception so that it sounds like truth. But the Evil One lies when he speaks (John 8:44). Tune into God and the principles of His Word instead. He speaks only what is right.

A Glimpse of Heavenly Praise

When you sing praises to God, do you consider what you are saying? So often words like majestic, holy, glorious, and righteous roll off the tongue with barely a thought, yet these are terms that describe the very God we worship.

That’s why it is helpful for us to enter with the apostle John into the heavenly throne room to see the majesty of the Lord whom we are exalting—the God worthy to receive all praise, glory, and honor. Within the limits of finite human language and understanding, John did his best to describe what he saw: a throne and the stunning radiance of the One sitting upon it.

Other participants in this scene are 24 elders representing redeemed humanity, and four living creatures who continually give glory, honor, and thanks to God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). In response, the elders fall down and worship, casting their crowns before God’s throne. The entire realm of heaven is enthralled with this One who is worthy of all worship.

Although we cannot actually see this scene like John, our worship should share its sentiment. This means our praise must be focused on the heavenly Father, who is infinitely greater than all His creatures and transcendent over time and creation. We can draw close to such magnificent worship when, after spending time studying and meditating on the Scriptures, our perceptions of the Lord are accurate. Sound theology results in worship that exalts and honors God for who He truly is.

The High Cost of Compromise

We all think there are certain things we’d never do: I’d never cheat on my spouse, I’d never steal from an employer, I’d never betray a friend, etc. While uttering the words, we’re confident that we’d live up to them. What believers often don’t realize is that the journey from “I’d never” to “I did” is made up of small steps, each one a compromise.

A young, spiritually fervent Solomon might have said, “I’d never be a lust-driven slave to false gods.” Yet he ended his life with a multitude of wives and lovers who demanded his allegiance to their deities. Neglecting the laws and principles of the true God cost him dearly.

Solomon knew the warnings against marrying foreigners: “They will turn your sons away from following [God] to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you” (Deut. 7:4). But the political advantages of an alliance with Egypt convinced him to compromise those high standards (1 Kings 3:1). The fact that God didn’t instantly react to Solomon’s rebellion may have made rationalizing the next marriage even easier—after all, a nation was more secure if its king’s harem included daughters of potential enemies. But just as God foretold, Solomon’s thousand-strong harem lured his heart away. He broke a divine covenant and forfeited his family’s claim to Israel’s throne.

God’s commands are meant to protect us from sin and heartache. Compromise can look tempting and even advantageous, but taking one step off the high road makes the next step even easier.

God’s Ordained Authority

God has our best interests in mind. His plans for each believer are meant to bring fullness of life. Yet He didn’t create us to be robots, programmed to blindly follow Him. No, the Lord grants us the choice of whether to obey Him. Our human nature tends to choose a self-centered path that turns away from God’s authority. But in doing so, we miss His best for us.

Consider the life of Saul. God chose this man to be king and provided guidelines for him to follow. Though Saul knew the Lord’s instructions, he chose to do things his own way. At times his sin was unquestionably deliberate, such as his attempt to kill David out of jealousy. At other times, however, his rebellion seemed less clear-cut. For example, despite God’s order to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites and their animals, Saul spared the best of the herd, with the justification that he intended “to sacrifice [them] to the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:3, 15:21).

The choice to disobey cost Saul the throne and eventually led to his destruction. He chose the road that he thought was best, but as we know now, the end result wasn’t worth it. We can learn from his mistakes. Partial obedience is actually disobedience. And any disobedience falls in the category of rebellion, which is sin.

Though our circumstances are different from Saul’s, we face the same types of choices each day. We’re just as vulnerable to the lure of temptation. But if we choose to live God’s way, the Holy Spirit will help us follow His lead and listen for His voice. And there we will find fullness of life.

The Humbling of Peter

 
 

Luke 22:54-62

Peter’s pride in his own cleverness and strength got in the way of God’s purposes. Christ sought a servant-leader to guide believers after He returned to heaven. The former fisherman was an impulsive know-it-all, but the Lord saw through Peter’s arrogance to his potential. He knew that Peter’s humiliation in today’s passage would challenge and mature him.

When Jesus’ words conflicted with Peter’s opinions, the disciple boldly rebuked the Teacher (Matt. 16:21-23; John 13:5-8). And Christ would respond with a pointed reprimand meant both to silence and to teach—sometimes in the presence of Peter’s peers.

Ultimately, the disciple made a mistake in an area where he’d once felt great confidence—his commitment to die for the Lord (Matt. 26:35). Instead, he denied Christ three times before the rooster crowed. This final humiliation, witnessed by a group of strangers, shattered his self-assurance.

Jesus chipped away at Peter’s pride for three years before the disciple gave up his notion that Christ was Israel’s grand deliverer from Roman oppression. Achieving glory ceased to matter when he chose to focus on the Lord’s plan for lasting personal salvation. And thanks to Peter’s newfound humility, God had a servant-leader (1 Pet. 5:5-6).

Are you hindering God’s work in your life? You may not be able to see it right now, but God isn’t afraid to reveal those areas for your good and His glory. The Lord humbled Peter and renewed him, and He will do the same for believers who yield to His will.

Hope Despite a Changing World

Where do you place your hope and security? If it’s in governments, financial markets, or education, you will be disappointed. Our world is always changing. Trusted governments fail, great economies falter, and strong institutions prove to be unstable. When this happens, people struggle with fear and insecurity.

The world, however, won’t become more trustworthy. Ever since the time of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-32), people have been promising a better civilization, but no man-made advance has permanently enhanced life. Certainly some institutions go through periods in which humanity is greatly benefited, but ultimately any part of society that challenges God won’t last. It’s because the talented and knowledgeable people involved are also sinful people. Greed, pride, and lust have brought about the downfall of many civilizations.

Brilliant, charismatic leaders may claim to offer a better tomorrow, but no man or woman is the solution to the world’s problems. Only Christ can deliver on His promise of hope to those of us who trust in Him. He lives in us, guiding our path, comforting us in loss and sorrow, and promising an eternal future of heavenly bliss.

This changing world can be a scary place—especially for people who trust in themselves. But those who trust in God can have hope and confidence because even in a chaotic environment, He is the one constant. His Word is always true, His power is absolute, and His promises are certain. Human institutions fail, but when Jesus Christ returns to rule the earth, all will be made right.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

Developing a Servant Spirit

Personal ambition and servanthood aren’t always compatible. In fact, they are often at odds with each other. A servant’s goal is to please his or her master in whatever way is required, but personal ambition strives for self-advancement. Jesus’ words from today’s passage must have sounded foreign to the disciples’ ears since, according to the thinking of their culture, greatness was acquired by striving for it, not by serving.

Like them, we live in a world where many people are seeking to make a name for themselves. They set goals, make plans, and do whatever is necessary to achieve what they’ve set out to do. But as Christians, we’re to live by a different standard: exalt Christ, obey His commands, and serve Him faithfully by doing His will, not our own.

We’re not called to gain fame and fortune by leaving our footprints in concrete for all to admire.  Our task is to humbly follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Whether our lives have a large or small impact is up to God, not us. The greatest acts of service are not usually flashy displays; more often they’re commonplace gestures like being kind to strangers, ministering to fellow believers, and praying for others. 

Jesus humbled Himself, surrendered His rights, and obeyed God even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Being His servant begins with the same attitude. It requires helping others when it’s not convenient, doing tasks that are not glamorous, and obeying the Lord even if it’s costly. We aren’t on earth to build our own kingdom but to faithfully serve God as He builds His.

Improving Our Prayers

Are you satisfied with your prayer life? I don’t know too many people who would answer yes to that question, because most of us know that we fall short in this discipline. Even the most mature believers recognize their need for improvement, and one of the best methods for doing that is examining scriptural prayers and using them as a model.

Several of Paul’s prayers are recorded in his epistles, and they supply wonderful insights about different ways to pray. In today’s passage, we see two foundations for prayer.

A Humble Attitude. Paul’s physical posture of bending his knees served as a reminder of his submissive position before the heavenly Father. He knew there was nothing in himself that would cause the Lord to hear and respond. He had access to the throne of God only through his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul did not make himself the center of the conversation but focused on the Lord and the church for whom he was interceding.

A Focus on God. The foundation of Paul’s prayer life was the Trinity. The apostle understood that God the Father adopts all believers worldwide into His family for eternity; that there are glorious riches found in God the Son; and that God the Holy Spirit has limitless power. The requests Paul made for the Ephesians were based on almighty God’s matchless abilities, resources, and power.

Although we can confidently approach the Lord’s throne of grace, we must always remember that we are but humble servants, and He is our exalted God.

Having a Rich Prayer Life

Prayer is an amazing privilege because it involves conversation with our heavenly Father. Yet, if we are honest, there are times when it seems more like a duty than a joy.  This is especially true if we reduce our prayers to a formula or routine, which can deaden our desire to talk to God.

In today’s passage, Paul’s prayer is just the opposite—it is full of life, spiritual truths, and love for his Lord. He asked God to do a great spiritual work in the Ephesians’ lives and, by extension, in ours as well:

To gain a greater comprehension of Christ’s love for us. Although it’s beyond our ability to fully grasp the vastness of our Savior’s love, Paul prays that we will be so firmly rooted and grounded in this truth that we will become controlled by it and “filled up to all the fullness of God” (v. 19). Experiencing Jesus’ love motivates us to obediently live for Christ and enables us to care deeply for others.

To be strengthened with the Lord’s supernatural power. Paul both praises God’s matchless power and invites it into our hearts. The most important battles take place inside us—in our minds, wills, and emotions—and Paul wants to ensure that the power of the Holy Spirit will be at work in our lives. When we welcome His authority, God can use us in meaningful ways, and what’s more, we will exhibit the life of Jesus in fuller measure.

Although physical and material needs are important, the apostle’s prayers more often focused on the spiritual welfare of others. That is a good example for us to follow as well.

Comebacks After Setbacks

Whether you have recently become a believer or have followed Christ for many years, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that the Christian life is a series of highs and lows. The truth is, we are never ultimately defeated because Christ overcame sin and death for us on the cross. Yet Scripture still warns us not to yield to the sinful desires of our flesh, conform to this world’s evil system, or fall for the schemes and lies of the devil. 

Since we are not totally free from the corrupt influences in and around us, the Lord has provided a way for us to come back and be restored. It is called confession, and it involves humbling ourselves, telling God what we have done, and agreeing with Him that it is wrong. Then God promises to forgive and cleanse us so that we might be restored to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). The good news is that we are not alone in this battle with sin.

We have God’s Holy Spirit, by whom we put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).
We have God’s Word, by which we grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet. 2:2).
We have God’s grace, which instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live righteously (Titus 2:11-12).
We have God’s promise that He will complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

When you sin, think of confession not as a dreaded duty but as a gracious gift of God. Take advantage of this privilege without shame, knowing that restoration is on the other side.

Too Sinful to Save?

Sometimes people avoid Christ’s offer of salvation because they feel they’ve messed up so badly that their sins are unforgivable. Perhaps that’s how John Newton, a former slave trader, felt before he experienced God’s mercy and penned this line from his famous hymn: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

The apostle Paul had similar feelings—he saw himself as the foremost of sinners. But that didn’t stop him from believing in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. In fact, as he looked back at the wonderful display of divine grace in his life, Paul recognized he was being used as an example of how far God’s grace can reach.

Jesus came to save sinners. So if you are a sinner, His grace is available to you for salvation. In other words, if Paul’s and John Newton’s sins were forgivable, so are yours. In fact, those who regard themselves as wretches are in a better position than many who consider themselves good and think a Savior is unnecessary. God’s grace comes to those who acknowledge their sin and see the need for salvation.

No matter how vast your sins, God’s grace is greater. The truth is, all human beings are wretches because no one can be good enough to earn acceptance by a holy God. You can either be condemned in your sins or turn to Christ, whose blood paid your penalty for sin so you could receive a full pardon. If you accept His gracious salvation, God may even use your past as a witness so that other sinners can be saved.

Citizens of Heaven

An old gospel song says, “This world is not my home. I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Does this describe how you think about life? As believers, we face the danger of forgetting that our citizenship is in heaven—it’s all too easy to start thinking of this world as our home.

Whenever anyone turns from sin and trusts in Jesus for salvation, that person’s name is forever recorded in heaven. It’s as if the new believer is already there. Ephesians 2:5-6 puts it this way: God has “made us alive together with Christ … raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” As a further guarantee of our spiritual position in heaven, we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise as a pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14).

But for now, we live here on earth and are subject to pain, illness, infirmities, and death. However, when Christ returns, He will transform these weak, mortal frames into glorious bodies like His. Although we don’t know exactly what we’ll look like, we can be sure that our new heavenly bodies will far exceed the ones we have now.

Are you eagerly awaiting that day, or have you been captivated by the fleeting pleasures and pursuits of this world? Since the earth is only our temporary home, we must be careful not to become too attached to the things it offers. A right understanding of our eternal citizenship changes our perspective and priorities in this life, prompting us to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

God Is With Us

God is always with us, even though we at times cannot sense His presence. There may be situations where we feel really close to Him, yet on other occasions, He might seem distant and uninvolved in our life. As believers, however, we can be certain He is our constant companion whether we’re aware of Him or not. This truth can empower and transform your life.

There are two statements in today’s passage that are the foundation for our confidence about God’s presence with us. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). Then He added, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (v. 23). What an amazing reality—the triune God has taken up residence in those of us who have received Christ’s forgiveness and salvation.

With this truth anchored in our mind and heart, we can know that no matter what we’re going through—even the loss of a loved one—we are not alone. Being in Christ, we have His peace in the midst of storms. That’s because there are none more powerful or knowledgeable than almighty God, who indwells us and gives us His comfort and strength. 

We must remind ourselves of God’s presence because, unfortunately, it’s tempting to forget. But the more we remember He is with us, the better we can discern His work and comfort in our life. Let’s pray to keep this aspect of God’s character at the forefront of our mind.

The Wages of Sin

God sent His Son to take our punishment by dying in our place. Unless believers understand this provision, they will doubt their salvation. We can’t be good enough to earn heaven. All are born with a corrupted nature; therefore, we will at times sin, no matter how hard we try not to. The Bible compares our attempts at righteous deeds to filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

On its own, mankind has but one option with regard to sin: to die in it and spend eternity separated from God. But the Father so loved the world that He chose to punish His Son in our place (John 3:16). It was a severe price to pay. Holy God cannot look upon the squalor of sin, so when Jesus became sin for all mankind, the Father had to turn away (2 Cor. 5:21). The physical suffering of crucifixion was terrible, but nothing compared to Jesus’ wrenching horror when the Father left Him. The devastated Messiah cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).

Jesus accepted separation from the Father so we wouldn’t have to. When Paul said that the wages of sin was death, he was referring to eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23). As believers, we are saved and forever reconciled with the Lord because of what Jesus has done.

The Savior took our place and accepted humanity’s punishment for sin. He and the Father have done the hard work of salvation so that you and I can live a life of peace, freedom, and hope and never be separated from our Creator. If you believe that Jesus Christ—the Son of God— died for your sins, then you too are saved.

What Is Heaven Like?

Heaven is the believer’s future home, and we’ve all wondered what it’s like. But the Bible gives us only a glimpse. Even if God revealed more in Scripture, we’d be incapable of comprehending it. As earthly creatures, we lack the experience or frame of reference needed to understand the eternal realities of that dimension.

Desiring to know more about heaven, some people have sought information outside of the Bible, often in books written by people who claim to have gone there. However, the only legitimate source of facts about heaven is God’s Word—nothing else can be depended upon to have a sure foundation in truth.

When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4). None of his letters include any details of his experience. God also entrusted the apostle John with a vision of heaven, but human language is inadequate to convey the realities of that otherworldly realm.

Although we may not be able to visualize everything John describes, we can all relate to what he says about those things that are absent in heaven: There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4). What’s more, we will never become stressed, exhausted, frustrated, angry, or sick, because our new bodies will be imperishable, sinless, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). Heaven is a perfect environment with no sin or sinners in it. And best of all, God will dwell among us.

Who Will Be in Heaven?

Most people think that when they die, they are going to heaven. If you asked why, the majority would say they have been good people or their positive deeds outweigh any negative things they’ve done. Yet the sad reality is, most people will not find themselves in heaven—and that includes some who claim to be Christians.

It may not be a popular topic of conversation, but our Savior knew that hell was essential to understand. In today’s reading, He uses illustrations of contrasting gates, trees, and houses to point out that there are only two possible destinies after death: heaven and hell. Jesus is warning us about a most sobering reality—that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” actually belongs to Him (Matt. 7:21-23).

What, then, distinguishes a true follower? John 14:15 tells us those who love the Savior will keep His commandments. This obedience begins with believing Jesus is the Son of God (John 3:36). In other words, the first step is to humble ourselves before God, admitting that we’re sinful and deserving of condemnation. Next, we must call out to Him, requesting the forgiveness for which His Son’s blood was shed on our behalf. From then on, we’re to live only for God.

If you hear the gospel but stop short of obedience, ask yourself, Do I fully understand the goodness of God’s love? That should inspire you to obey the Father. Looking good on the outside isn’t enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. Remember, to those who truly receive Him, He will give “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Won’t you make sure you’re among those destined for heaven?

Discovering God’s Will

Life involves all kinds of choices—some are small and mundane, while others are more consequential. Including God in our decision-making is always the wisest course of action. Scripture we have memorized is something the Holy Spirit uses to help us discover God’s will.

There’s a two-part process I find beneficial in making decisions, and it can also help you with choices regarding relationships, finances, health, employment, and other important matters. The first step involves assessing the heart, mind, and will. To receive the Lord’s direction, we need a clean heart, a clear mind, and a surrendered will. Sinful habits can cloud thinking and keep us from understanding His plan. Confessing our sins and turning from them brings cleansing and clarity (1 John 1:9). A stubborn will that says, “I want my way” prevents us from heeding God’s instruction. Instead, we need to lay down our desires and commit to saying yes to His plan.

The second step is to wait patiently on the Lord for His answer. It takes courage to stand firm, especially when others are telling us what they think we should do. Our own emotions may also be pushing us to act now, but we must resist moving ahead of God. To be patient means trusting the Lord while we wait to learn His answer and discover His timing.

Discerning God’s plan requires preparation of our heart, mind, and will. It also often requires patience. During our time of waiting, we are to follow His known will—to be a faithful servant in His kingdom, loving Him with our whole heart and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).

Conviction Versus Condemnation

Our heavenly Father desires that we walk closely with Him. To help us, the Holy Spirit guides us on the right path and redirects us when we are headed in the wrong direction. In other words, He convicts us when we are in danger of straying.

Conviction is God’s loving hand steering us back to the path that leads to life. To better understand the concept, picture a parent whose toddler begins to chase a ball into a busy street. The youngster has only one desire at that moment: to retrieve the toy. The parent, however, would be negligent if he or she did not stop the child.

We, like the toddler in this example, view our life from a limited perspective. If our heavenly Father stops us from achieving a desire, it seems frustrating. But we must remember that the Almighty is acting out of His love for us.

Conviction begins even before salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals our wrongs to help us recognize that we need forgiveness. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and choose to follow Him, we are born again. Only then are we free from the penalty of sin. At the same time, we are still human and will make some poor choices. So, even after we are His children, God continues to redirect us.

Conviction is different from condemnation. Remember that “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). So though believers at times will sin, they are justified by Christ’s sacrifice and free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

Conviction for the Believer

Recently I spoke to a heartbroken woman. Her father was dying, and he was cold toward his family and God. He desired no contact and refused to discuss any spiritual matter.

But God is able to reach anyone—even someone hostile to the faith, as we saw with the apostle Paul’s conversion. Yet Scripture also teaches that though the Lord is patient toward man, He may eventually give individuals over to the hardness of their own heart. In other words, He may let them have their own way in rejecting the Savior.

The situation is different for believers, however. When we, in our humanness, continue to sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us so we’ll get back on track. At that point, we can humbly repent and follow Him or ignore His voice and continue to sin. If we persist in error, our Father will keep calling us back. But the danger is that our hearts may become desensitized and we could eventually cease to hear His warnings.

Thankfully, we are children of God, and He loves us too much to let us remain in a sinful pattern. Though chastisement and conviction are never pleasant, He knows our traveling down the wrong road would result in much greater heartache (Prov. 3:12). The Lord is a shepherd, using His staff and rod to lovingly bring us to green pastures.

On the Christian journey, temptations to stray falsely promise to satisfy our longings. Stay closely connected to Jesus through prayer and Scripture. Be listening so you can obey immediately when He calls you to change course. In the long run, living God’s way is what brings the greatest joy.

How God Works

God is at work everywhere. In the very first verse of the Bible, He is creating the heavens and earth. In the last verses of Revelation, He is calling people to be saved. Throughout Scripture and in the world today, the Lord is active in the lives of believers and unbelievers, although in very different ways.

We will be able to see God move in our life if we understand how He works—and He operates in both dramatic and seemingly insignificant ways. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, everyone could see by his face that he’d had a dramatic encounter with God. In contrast, Joseph entered Potiphar’s household as a slave. That may seem like an inconsequential situation in an incredible life, but it was important to God’s plan for Joseph.

In a similar way, God’s work in us always has purpose. Our life may seem routine, but God is busy every day conforming us to Christ’s likeness. He may allow circumstances we dislike, but those situations accomplish His goal. And we can see from examples like Gideon and Samson that He works differently with each person.

However God chooses to work in our life, we must trust Him. For instance, the Lord promised Abraham a son but silently waited 25 years to honor His vow. What appears slow to us is not slow to God. He is working out the perfect timing of events. Our patience to wait on Him demonstrates our trust, which is rewarded when we come ever closer to God’s goal: to become more like Jesus.

Watching God Work

We have the privilege of serving a God who does abundantly more than we can imagine. Most Christians go through their daily life with no real awareness that the Lord is at work. However, He is active all the time, orchestrating circumstances, listening to the prayers of His children, and working through His followers to serve others. God is at work in the life of each believer so that He will receive glory and honor.

It is important that Christians learn to see God at work. To do that, we first need to observe how He worked in the lives of men and women in Scripture. It is also essential for us to listen for what He is saying to our heart. If we think that the Lord has never spoken to us, then either we have not been listening, or we do not really expect an answer from Him at all.

To listen and learn, we must have a right relationship with the Lord—this means confessing our sins and choosing to serve Him. We cannot see God at work if we are not prayerful people. Prayer centers our attention on Him. That focus opens us to the fact that we are loved enough to receive direction from our Father.

Frequently though, the problem is that we do not receive guidance according to our schedule. Our heavenly Father may work over long periods of time, so we must learn to practice patience. A human parent needs at least 18 years to teach a child how to function appropriately in the world. How much longer must it take God to achieve His goal of conforming us to the image of His Son?

Immature Faith

We all know that the Christian walk begins with faith in Jesus for the salvation of our soul. But faith is not a onetime act—it’s a lifelong path. And Hebrews 11:6 tells us why that journey is so important: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

The faith of new believers is immature and often restless because there isn’t yet a deep understanding of the heavenly Father. Therefore, when trials come, the tendency is to look at the problem rather than at God. But as we spend more time studying His Word and growing in our knowledge of Him, our confidence in the Lord begins to increase. The more we learn what pleases Him, the wiser our prayers become.

Another way faith matures is through trials. In today’s passage, Jesus’ disciples became frightened in a storm and cried out to Him for help. We can relate to this scenario—at one time or another, we all have found ourselves in a desperate situation with no way to extricate ourselves. And the words Jesus spoke to His disciples could probably be said to us as well: “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26).

We’d all like a problem-free life, but that’s not possible. The silver lining is that trouble can strengthen our faith in the Lord. It’s one thing to read about God’s faithfulness in His Word, but we also need to experience it in our personal life. Each time we’re able to trust the Lord during a trial, we know our faith is genuine.

When God Is Silent

When Lazarus was dying, his sisters urgently called for Jesus. Imagine how their grief must have compounded when He didn’t instantly respond to their request.

God’s silence is difficult to accept. We want Him to leap into action when we call, particularly if we are hurting or afraid. But since He promises to meet our needs, we can be sure that His silence has purpose.

Silence grabs our attention. The disciples knew that Jesus could heal, so they must have wondered why He delayed instead of rushing to His friend’s bedside. But the Lord wanted them to witness something even greater: His power over death. They had been confused by His statements about conquering death, and they needed to understand that He could fulfill His own resurrection prophecies (Mark 9:31-32). The miracle at Lazarus’ tomb was part of their preparation.

Silence teaches us to trust. Mary and Martha sent word of Lazarus’ illness because they anticipated that the Lord would heal him. But would their faith waver if that expectation was not met? Martha answered the question by stating, “I have believed that You are the Christ” (John 11:27). And sure enough, the Lord demonstrated His power with a stunning miracle: their brother’s return to life.

At times, the only thing we can hear when we pray is our own breathing. That can be frustrating and frightening. But Scripture says God is always with us, and His silence will not last forever (Job 23:8-10; Matt. 28:20). Cling to those promises as you wait for Him to answer.

The Uniqueness of Christ

Many people today have their own ideas about who Jesus is. Some people think He was merely a prophet or good teacher who taught people how to live. Even those who claim to be Christians have some inaccurate views of Him because they haven’t based their perceptions on the comprehensive truth of Scripture.

When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16). Jesus was unlike any other person who ever lived. He was set apart by . . .

His birth. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Son of God entered the human race through the womb of a virgin.

His wisdom. At age 12, Jesus spent three days with the Jewish teachers, amazing them with His divine wisdom and understanding.

His baptism. Though He was innocent of sin, Jesus asked John to baptize Him in order to identify with the sinners He came to save.

His temptation. Though Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus did not yield. Throughout His life, He fully obeyed every law of God and never sinned.

His ministry. He challenged man-made traditions and demonstrated the power of God by healing people, raising the dead, and forgiving sins.

His death. Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for the sins of mankind so they could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

His resurrection. Christ was the only person to ever permanently overcome death through resurrection.

Is this the Jesus you know? He is the only one who can save you.

The Names of Christ

In biblical times, a baby’s name was based on the child’s characteristics or a hope or prayer of the parent. The same is true of Jesus, whose name means “Jehovah is salvation.” He was uniquely sent from heaven by the Father to be our Savior, and all His names and titles are powerful descriptions of who He is and what He does. What’s more, the way Jesus describes Himself in John’s gospel provides additional, rich insight into His character and work:

The Bread of Life (John 6:32-40). Jesus Christ is the only one who can truly satisfy our heart and feed our soul with sustenance that leads to eternal life.

The Light of the World (John 8:12). He shines through this dark, sinful world, showing us the way to forgiveness and salvation.

The Door (John 10:7-10). Whoever enters through the door of Christ will be saved.

The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). As our Shepherd, Jesus knows and cares for us—with a love so great that He laid down His life to save us.

The Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6). Jesus alone is the origin of truth and life, so He is the only avenue by which we can be saved and live eternally.

The Vine (John 15:1-10). Christ is the source of our spiritual life. Without His abiding presence, we could do nothing of eternal value.

These are just some of the titles that Jesus Christ used to identify Himself, and the Bible refers to Him in many additional ways. Each time you read God’s Word, pay attention to the descriptive names of Jesus. Each one will help you come to a better understanding of the One who loves you and came to save you.

The God Who Rescues Us

When we tell people that God wants to save them, they may immediately wonder why rescue is necessary. In their mind, they are in no immediate danger and therefore have no need of a Savior. Before a person can appreciate the good news, he or she has to understand the bad news.

Every one of us is in need of rescue because we are all sinful and worthy of God’s eternal condemnation and punishment. No matter how hard we try, “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12). This means that we lack the ability to make ourselves acceptable to God. In other words, we’re eternally doomed unless God Himself intervenes on our behalf. And that is exactly what He did.

In order to rescue fallen humanity, God ordained a plan for mankind’s salvation before He even created the world. Since His attribute of justice could not be set aside, an acceptable substitute was chosen to bear the condemnation and punishment that sinners deserved. The only one qualified for this mission was His beloved Son, who took on human flesh and lived a life without sin.

The gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to God is free to all who will receive Jesus Christ and believe He made atonement on their behalf. There is no condemnation for those who take refuge in Him. But those who reject His offer of salvation will have to bear the penalty for their sins themselves.

Christ did everything that was necessary to rescue us. All we have to do is believe and entrust our life to Him by faith.

Christmas Giving

Why do we give gifts at Christmas? When we were children, presents were the highlight of the season, and for some of us, the joy of giving and receiving gifts has not waned. Some people wonder what all this has to do with the celebration of Christ’s birth. But there is a connection—although nothing came wrapped in paper, the occasion was marked by extravagant generosity.

God gave His only begotten Son. This was greatest gift ever given, because His precious Son was the only one who could die as a sacrifice for our sins.

Mary gave her body and reputation. When the angel told her she would bear the Son of God, Mary responded, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Although this was a glorious privilege, it also included the loss of her reputation. Her engagement to Joseph was as binding as marriage, and to be found pregnant before the actual ceremony would have been scandalous in the people’s eyes.

The shepherds gave a testimony. After hearing the birth announcement from the angel and seeing the newborn Messiah, they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. They told everyone what they had heard and seen (Luke 2:17-20).

The magi gave gifts and worship. Having traveled a long distance to find this new King of the Jews, they fell to the ground in worship and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).

Although materialism and commercialism have hijacked the tradition of gift giving to some degree, we must also remember the true generosity that is at the heart of Christmas.

Lessons From a Life Well Lived

Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written from prison. This time the apostle felt certain that the emperor would have him executed. But God’s faithful servant was ready to take the next step of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul met death with calm acceptance. He lived every day—from his conversion on the road to Damascus to his final moments—in service to God, which meant consenting to whatever hardship he was asked to bear in Jesus’ name. “I have fought the good fight,” he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7). From Paul’s many letters, we know that he battled the same enemies we face—the flesh (Rom. 7:14-15), the world (1 Corinthians 4:11-13), and Satan (Eph. 6:12). These passages are a reminder that Paul wasn’t more holy than us; he had to persevere by faith. And the same is true for us today.

Even with his profound wisdom and skill as an apostle and missionary, Paul wasn’t so different from ordinary you and me. He was not perfect and he had spiritual defeats. But Paul didn’t stay down. He got back into the fight. For this and for the life he lived, he anticipated rich rewards in eternity. And he pointed out that heaven’s treasures were “not only to me but also to all who have longed for [Jesus’] appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV).

Paul struggled and agonized, as believers today often do. But he kept the faith, and you can as well. Fight the good fight, friend. Battle your enemies by choosing to trust, obey, and rely upon the Lord. You will bring honor to Him and store up treasures in heaven for yourself.

Brokenness: The Way to Blessing

No one enjoys heartache. Yet God uses pain to mold His children. Although times of happiness are wonderful, times of suffering tend to produce more growth.

Brokenness can highlight parts of us that try to act independently of God. If we have unsurrendered areas of our life, they may hinder our Father’s purposes for us. But in His skillful and loving way, our Father uses our circumstances and discomfort to reveal how dependent on Him we truly are.

The apostle Paul experienced this. After being saved on the road to Damascus, he still needed spiritual growth in order to be most effective for Christ. Therefore, God allowed some type of affliction, which the apostle termed a “thorn.” Three different times, he pleaded with the Lord for its removal, but the thorn remained. Remarkably, Paul’s response was gratitude. Even more, he wrote, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Like Paul, we can dislike suffering and yet still be confident that God is growing us. His purpose is that we walk in intimate oneness with Him and serve effectively according to His purpose and will. To accomplish this, He has to break us of our resistance and self-reliance.

If you truly desire to live for Jesus, trust Him enough to pray, “Lord, more than anything else in life, I want to live for You. Please challenge any areas that are not in complete submission to Your will.”

God Values Endurance

As human beings, we often have a difficult time perceiving what the Lord is doing in our life. We are limited by the passage of time, the confusion of present circumstances, and a lack of understanding regarding God’s goals and His means of accomplishing them. That’s why studying the lives of men and women in Scripture helps us see how the Lord worked in previous generations. God’s relationships with the faithful in earlier times are helpful examples for us today.

When we face uncertainty, we can look to Moses’ example. His life was unpredictable and full of hardship, yet he “endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (Heb. 11:27). In Greek, the root word for “endurance” refers to the capacity to bear up under difficulty. Moses successfully persevered under pressure by keeping his focus on God rather than on the events surrounding him.

From Moses’ example, we learn that this is what the Lord desires for us as well. Although we may want out of a difficult situation as soon as possible, this may not be God’s aim. It is not His goal to make us as comfortable as can be but, rather, to transform us into the image of His Son. And endurance helps us get there.

If God calls us to endure pain, hardship, or uncertainty, we can find encouragement in knowing we’re never alone. Part of “seeing Him who is unseen” is realizing that God’s grace and comfort carry us through every situation. The Lord doesn’t want us to simply grit our teeth and bear hardship; He desires that we trust Him and bring glory to His name through our dependence.

An Encounter With God

Each Sunday countless people congregate in church buildings to worship God. But for many of them, going to church is merely an item on their checklist—an activity that fulfills their “spiritual duty.” Although they may be moved by the music and sermon, they quickly lose the feeling and return to a life in which God seems distant, and the world’s pleasures begin to look more attractive.

Isaiah’s time apparently wasn’t so different from ours. Listen to God’s assessment: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isa. 29:13 NIV).

What is the solution when God’s people begin to take Him for granted? Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in today’s reading provides a good example. When he saw God’s awesome holiness, Isaiah was filled with fear and profound awareness of his own sin. In distress, he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). After being cleansed from his sin, his one desire was to serve the Lord as His prophet, and he said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa. 6:8).

Although it’s unlikely we will experience a vision like this, every time we open God’s Word, we have an opportunity to see “the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5) as Isaiah did. What’s even more amazing is that this majestic, holy God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him through His Son.

If your spiritual life has become too mechanical, it’s time to approach your time with God differently. Pray for a heart that is open to a true encounter with Him, and wait patiently for His provision.

Religious but Lost

Nicodemus would probably be welcome at any church today. He seems an ideal member—principled, knowledgeable, and courteous. And as a Pharisee, he followed strict Jewish rules, which certainly made him religious. However, Nicodemus had serious drawbacks: He was blind to the truth and spiritually lost. In other words, he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.

When Nicodemus came to see the Lord in John 3, Jesus explained to him that no amount of goodness could erase or change a person’s nature. Instead, everyone who desires to serve God must be born again. Jesus promised that if Nicodemus trusted Him as Savior, then he would enter into a brand-new life. His old flesh nature would be replaced so that he could have a real relationship with God—instead of appearing to be a religious man, Nicodemus would be a true believer.

No one gets into heaven because of good works and kind behavior. At the end of our earthly life when we stand before God, only our relationship with Him will matter. We will want to show Him that in place of our old sinful nature, we now have the living Spirit we received when Jesus Christ came into our life.

The Ultimate Rejection

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that the gate to heaven is narrow (Matt. 7:13-14). The easier route through life is the path of happiness, which has side roads to decadence and self-indulgence. But the way to eternal life is marked by self-sacrifice and humility.

The Lord warned His followers not to be deceived about their salvation. Those who find heaven’s road have trusted Him as Savior and acknowledged that His sacrificial death paid their sin debt in full. This is important because we meet many people who appear to be walking the narrow path but have never made a decision for Christ. They may be busy with church work, but they have placed performance before commitment. At the judgment, Jesus will tell them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).

You don’t want to be among those who think their deeds will earn them admission to heaven. Receiving Christ as Savior is the only way (John 14:6). Then you can be sure that at the end of your life, you’ll step off the narrow road and into God’s presence forever (1 John 5:13).

The Key to Acceptance

Many churchgoers will be disheartened to learn that ministry work doesn’t reserve them a place in heaven. Good deeds mean nothing to God unless they are the outgrowth of a relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter how many acts of kindness or service a person has performed—only those who have received Jesus Christ will enter heaven.

The definition of believe often confuses church members who lack genuine faith. They believe in God, Jesus, and heaven. But there’s a difference between giving intellectual assent to an idea and spiritually acknowledging Christ as Savior. What we see in the Bible is that when someone truly comes to faith in Jesus, he or she changes. It’s impossible to remain the same after realizing one’s desperate need for Him. (See John 4:39.)

A desire for salvation begins with the recognition that we’ve sinned against God and there is no hope of salvation apart from Jesus. When we trust in His sacrifice for the payment of our sin debt, God promises to respond. If you desire to be in heaven with Him for eternity, ask yourself, Have I been saved? If not, now is the time.

Doing God’s Work God’s Way

Zechariah 4 speaks of an approach to serving that will never become stale: All kingdom work that the Father considers valuable takes place through His Holy Spirit—not by means of human power or might (Zech. 4:6). Far from being aimed at a select few who are called to ministry, this is an essential truth for all believers. 

God, speaking through the apostle Paul, addressed the struggling believers in the Corinthian church as “saints by calling” (1 Corinthians 1:2). In other words, Christians have been chosen by the Lord and called to honor Him with a life of obedience, which is expressed through faith and service. Here’s what this means for believers today: We must not rely on our own wisdom or strength, but on God’s Holy Spirit and Word.

Regardless of the situation, if you’re a believer, you are called—called to rest in Christ, to abide in Him, and to seek His will. The first step is to get your focus off the circumstances and redirect it to Christ. How can you possibly know where He’s leading unless you are looking and listening?

Our Heavenly Inheritance

Do you have too much stuff? If you’re like most people, the answer is yes. The problem is that whatever we accumulate demands our time and attention. It must be obtained, maintained, organized, and eventually discarded or given away. But nothing comes with us when we die. Our security isn’t found in possessions, but in our relationship with Christ.

Peter assures us that we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4)—one that is safe and secure because we’re not the ones guarding it. Our treasure, which is held and protected by God, cannot be stolen or ruined. It is ...

Imperishable. Heavenly treasure will never wear out or need fixing. It’s forever new.

Undefiled. Our inheritance is pure and can’t be spoiled by sin.

Unfading. It’s not affected by the passing of time and will never wear away or become less beautiful.

Our eternal hope is secure—and in God’s presence, everything will be perfect. When life is tough, we can find hope in knowing what awaits us in the future. This awareness increases our desire to live a holy life, because we know the perfection of our destiny: absolute holiness and freedom from sin.

A Need for Spiritual Discernment

In Philippians 1:8-11, Paul says he wants the believers at Philippi to grow in their knowledge of God so they can choose the best way to live. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us living by feelings or sight, so He provides the gift of discernment—the capacity to judge situations and determine what is His best for us.

To live in God’s will, we must have a discerning spirit. He wants us to walk in a manner that both brings Him glory and blesses us with joy and peace. Jesus will reveal the path to anyone who asks, but we must be able to judge what is of Him and what’s not—then we can avoid avenues that merely seem right. Remember, many opportunities and situations that look good aren’t the Lord’s will.

A lot of information seems true but is actually false. We must be able to distinguish between the two. It would be unwise to accept everything we hear on the internet, radio, or television. Counsel from influential people, the media, and even the pulpit must be evaluated against the only reliable measure for spiritual discernment: God’s Word.

The Joy of Obedience

We read in Luke 5 that Peter had spent his night as he usually did—fishing—but didn’t catch anything. He was surely tired, frustrated, and ready to go home. However, Jesus asked to borrow his boat in order to preach to the crowd. Peter knew there were other boats around, but Jesus asked for his.

When Jesus finished speaking to the crowd, He told Peter to spread the nets again. The fisherman replied, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say” (Luke 5:5). Peter’s obedience led to nets that overflowed with fish. By saying yes to the Lord’s plan, he experienced both material and spiritual blessings. The benefits far outweighed any effort or inconvenience.

God’s requests can come at inopportune moments or when we least expect them. We may be tempted to let someone else respond, thinking that it won’t matter who answers His call. But God’s plans are always for our spiritual good (Jer. 29:11). Obeying God—even in the areas where we feel knowledgeable and skilled enough to handle matters ourselves—is essential to enjoying His rewards and extending them to others. What is Jesus asking of you?

Obeying God

Peter was a professional fisherman. He knew how to gauge weather conditions, where to cast nets for the likeliest haul, and when to end an unproductive session. Because of his expertise, he may have silently questioned Jesus’ instructions, which we read about in yesterday’s devotion—Peter may have thought, Why let down the nets when we’ve caught nothing all night?

Sometimes Jesus asks us to do something that seems unreasonable. It might involve leaving a job or ministry, taking on more responsibility when life already feels overloaded, or accepting an assignment that seems better suited for someone with a different skill set. Yet, because of the One who asks, it’s the right thing to do.

Scripture talks about many people who faced such a choice. Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2). Noah was told to build an ark on dry land because a flood was coming (Gen. 6:14). Joshua was given a military strategy of marching around Jericho instead of attacking it (Josh. 6:2-5). Gideon, who was young and unsure, was told to send most of his warriors home before battle (Judg. 7:2-3). They all obeyed and then experienced God’s power.

Don’t let human logic dictate whether you follow the Lord. Trust in Him as Peter and these other faithful believers did.

Praying in Jesus’ Name

Do you remember the teaching Jesus introduced the night before His death? He told His followers, “Whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you” (John 15:16 NIV, emphasis added). Praying in the name of Christ declares our:

Association with the Savior. Our relationship with Jesus allows us to approach the Father. We used to be foreigners, but at salvation, we became God’s children through the redemptive work of the Son of God (Eph. 2:19). The Holy Spirit within us proves we belong to the Father, who listens to the requests of His family.

Access to the Father. Jesus’ death opened an immediate, unhindered path to the Father’s presence. When the Savior offered Himself as the final priestly sacrifice (Heb. 7:26-28), the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from man was torn in two (Mark 15:38). In that moment, access to God became available to all who believe. Through the Holy Spirit, we can talk to God directly without a human intermediary (Eph. 2:18).

Because of our Savior Jesus Christ, we can freely access our heavenly Father. Let’s give Him thanks for the remarkable privilege of prayer!

The Power of Jesus’ Name

Yesterday we read how praying in Jesus’ name affirms our relationship with Christ and our direct access to the Father. It also declares our ...

Authority to Petition God. Christ sits at the right hand of God, where He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25). He says to ask for what we need and gives us authority to enter the throne room at any time and speak with the Father. Everyone who trusts in the Savior has the right to use Jesus’ name.

Agreement With God’s Purposes. In the Savior’s name, we can make requests to the Father, but we must agree with His purposes. This means aligning our prayers with His character and will, and making His work the priority—not ours. We can learn to pray in accordance with God’s plan by abiding in His Word and letting it influence our thoughts.

Assurance of an Answer. “In Jesus’ name”is also a phrase of confidence. It shows we believe that our prayers will be heard and answered.

In Jesus’ name. These three words powerfully touch the Father’s heart. Using them is a mighty prerogative we have as children of God. Let’s exercise this privilege well.

Holding Fast to Our Convictions

It’s easy to hold firm to our beliefs when we’re with like-minded people in church. But if we’re among people who doubt or disagree with Christianity, we need courage to stand up for the truth of God’s Word.

In these situations, we might be tempted to compromise our convictions out of fear, such as:

• Fear of Criticism. Believers standing up for God’s truth will likely get criticized by people who don’t share their beliefs.

• Fear of Rejection. If we live by our convictions or verbally share our faith, we may not be accepted by those who follow their own desires.

• Fear of Loss. Sometimes we don’t want to take a godly stand because we could lose our friends. But anyone who keeps us from obeying the Lord is not a true friend.

Sacrificing righteous standards in order to please others will keep us from the fullness of what God has planned for our life. It’s better to live for Christ and follow His commandments so we can glorify Him. 

As God’s people, we hold on to our convictions, no matter the consequences. Pleasing Christ is our highest priority and well worth our standing firm for Him.

Knowing God

It is possible for a husband to live with his wife for 50 years, eat at the same table, and share the same routine but never really understand her. In the same way, we can attend church and read books about the Lord without truly knowing our Creator. We get to know God by spending time in His presence and reading what He reveals about Himself in His Word.

For example, Matthew 1:23 calls the Lord Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans … I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20). Scripture also describes Him as our “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). God isn’t some distant, future rescuer; He is here and involved now (Psalm 32:7). God is the rock where we can find shelter, stability, and strength (Psalm 62:2; Isa. 40:31).

Getting to know God isn’t something that happens automatically. It comes through spending time with Him and a lifelong journey of sanctification. If you’re curious about the Father and want to experience more of Him, pause now and ask the Holy Spirit to increase your knowledge and guide you.

Go to the Ant

If you’ve ever battled ants in your kitchen, you might describe them as stubborn. But to someone struggling to stay on course, these tiny creatures seem determined, or even inspiring. In fact, ants have several characteristics people admire, including preparation, cooperation, perseverance, diligence, and unity.

Ants are but one example of how much we can learn from the world God created—it contains bountiful evidence of His character and values. Knowing this, Jesus directed His followers’ attention to the birds so that they might consider the folly of anxiety (Matt. 6:25-26). Birds do not reap or gather grain but instead assume their food will be supplied as it always has been. This observation of nature demonstrates that the Lord who provides for birds can be trusted to meet His people’s needs as well.

While godly wisdom is rooted in Scripture and sought through prayer, we shouldn’t overlook the lessons unfolding right outside the front door. Ask God for eyes to see His principles in the natural world. Then take every chance to grow in understanding, both inside and outside your house.

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