Every one of us makes tracks through the valley of failure. The question is, How are you going to respond? Plenty of people give up and exchange a vibrant kingdom-serving life for a defeated existence. But failure need not be the end of the story. It’s a chance for a new beginning, living in Christ’s strength.
Peter had a life-altering failure. Jesus warned that Satan had asked permission to “sift” the disciple like wheat (Luke 22:31), referring to the vigorous shaking required to separate wheat kernels from debris. The enemy wanted to shake Peter’s faith hard in hopes that he’d fall away from Jesus like chaff.
Peter believed the promise he’d made to Jesus: “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not” (Mark 14:29). But Satan knows a few things about the power of failure. He realized that the disciple would be wounded by his own disloyalty. A man with tattered pride can’t help but question his usefulness.
When Satan sifts believers, his goal is to damage our faith so much that we’re useless to the Lord. He wants us shelved far from the action of God’s kingdom. Therefore, he goes for our strengths—the areas where we believe ourselves to be invincible, or at least very well protected. And when the devil succeeds, we are disappointed and demoralized. But we don’t have to stay that way.
If we are willing, God can use our failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and instead put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Thereafter, he risked humiliation, persecution, and death to proclaim the gospel. Failure was the catalyst that led to greater faith and true servanthood.
Bible in One Year: Daniel 3-4
Read: Hebrews 11:8–13
Bible in a Year: Proverbs 16–18; 2 Corinthians 6
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.—Hebrews 11:13
During a discussion of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a teenager said he prefers his stories in books rather than movies. When asked why, the young man replied, “With a book, I can stay there as long as I want.” There is something to be said for the power of lingering in a book, especially the Bible, and “inhabiting” the stories there.
Hebrews 11, often called “the faith chapter” of the Bible, mentions nineteen people by name. Each one traveled a road of difficulty and doubt, yet chose to obey God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (v. 13).
How easy it is to rush through our Bible reading without pondering the people and events in the text. Our self-imposed time schedule robs us of going deeper into God’s truth and His plan for our lives. Yet, when we are willing to stay awhile, we find ourselves caught up in the real-life dramas of people like us who chose to stake their lives on God’s faithfulness.
When we open God’s Word, it’s good to recall that we can stay as long as we want. —David C. McCasland
Father in heaven, thank You for Your written Word and the examples of people who lived by faith. Help us to follow You as they did.
Linger in God’s Word and you’ll find stories of faith.
INSIGHT: Hebrews 11 provides examples of how authentic faith leads to a changed life. Belief and action produce acts of courage and perseverance. As we ponder the deep and impressive faith our spiritual ancestors demonstrated through their actions, it encourages us to follow in their footsteps. The examples of those who have preceded us—those who lived as “foreigners and strangers on earth” (v. 13)—help us to fix our eyes on Jesus (12:2).
As you reflect on today’s reading, how are you inspired in your walk with Christ? J.R. Hudberg
In my mother’s antique shop were a variety of treasures for a curious child. My personal favorite was the Victrola that sat stately in the corner, a large internal phonograph that begged to be heard. The sounds it made were bold and cavernous, like an opera in a wooden box. This one was an early model, I heard adults say, and it was in mint condition. So it seemed peculiar to me that our frequent requests to put it into action were, from time to time, resisted. To me it was a perfect treasure, a magnificent and flawless toy. To the motherly owner of the store, it was a treasure that was capable of breaking before it sold. “As is” was not a phrase she wanted to add to the price tag.
A label that was seen occasionally within the shop, “as is” conveyed an item with damage or brokenness of some sort. “As is” marked the clock that had stopped ticking, or the rocking horse that had a crack in one of its legs. Because I knew my mother as one who could fix almost anything, the label also conveyed to me a certain sense of defeat. Whatever the item, it was a lost cause—a treasure bearing some distinguishable, irreparable flaw.
In different ways and in varying degrees throughout our lives, many of us feel something like the object marked “as is,” or the treasure with only a matter of time before something goes awry. With a sense of defeat, we view our lives through the lens of what is broken or has been broken, what is irreparable or what might break. Looking ahead, we see the broken down trailer behind us, which seems to declare emphatically our status “as is.”
Anytime I am having difficulty trusting God, I remember things He has done for me in the past and I am reassured that He will do it again.
I have kept journals for forty years, and I ran across one recently from the 1970s, when I asked God to provide me with a dozen new dishtowels. Dave and I had no money to purchase them, and since I was just beginning my journey of trusting God, I approached Him as a little child and asked for them.
Imagine my elation when a few weeks later, a woman I was barely acquainted with showed up at my door and said, “I hope you don’t think I’m crazy, but I kept feeling that God wanted me to bring you some new dishtowels!” I got so excited that she was shocked until I explained to her that I had asked God to provide them. That is one of my vivid experiences with the faithfulness of God, and there have been many others through the years.
In the Bible, we read that when David needed to kill the giant, Goliath, and everyone was discouraging him and telling him that he would fail, he remembered the lion and the bear that he had previously killed with God’s faithful help. His faith was strengthened and he went on to slay Goliath. (See 1 Samuel 17:34-36.)
I want to encourage you to take time, perhaps even right now, to make a list of some of the times you have experienced God’s faithfulness in your own life. I can assure you that it will feed your faith and enable you to trust God more easily for the current needs in your life.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, KJV).
Jesus had a flashpoint against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They professed to be something they were not. Externally they did everything right, adhering meticulously to all the details of the law, yet He referred to them as being “whitewashed tombs” internally, and being “full of dead men’s bones.” Thus, obviously, the “pure in heart” did not apply to the Pharisees, according to His view of them.
In John 14:21, Jesus says, “The one who obeys Me is the one who loves Me and because he loves Me My Father will love him and I will too and I will reveal Myself to him.” That is another way of saying what He said in the verse in Matthew above. The pure in heart shall see God because He will reveal Himself to those who obey, and only the pure in heart obey.
If God seems impersonal to you, far off and unreachable, you may want to look into the mirror of your heart to see if anything there would grieve or quench the Spirit, short- circuiting His communication with you.
You may be sure of this promise of God: The pure in heart will experience the reality of His presence within.
If for some reason this is not your experience, God has made provision whereby you can have vital fellowship with Him. Breathe spiritually. Exhale by confessing yours sins, and inhale by appropriating the fullness of God’s Spirit. Begin to delight yourself in the Lord and in His Word, asking God to give you a pure heart, and you may be assured that God will become a reality to you.
Bible Reading: Psalm 18:20-26
TODAY’S ACTION POINT: Because I desire to have a close personal relationship with God and to live a supernatural life, I will keep my heart pure before Him.
Many years ago I spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil with a longtime missionary pilot. Let me just say, Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft! I could not get comfortable. I kept thinking the plane was going to crash in the jungle and I’d be gobbled up by piranhas. I kept shifting around, looking down and gripping my seat—as if that would help. Finally the pilot had enough of my squirming. He looked over at me and shouted over the airplane noise, “We won’t face anything that I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”
Is God saying the same to you? Examine the truths which sustain your belief in God. Make sure one of them is etched with the words “My God is sovereign!” Then, be anxious for nothing!
Read more Anxious for Nothing
Amy Coney Barrett is a law professor at Notre Dame. She also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Now she has been nominated by President Trump to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Here’s the problem: she’s a Catholic.
Barrett is the mother of seven, including a special needs child and two children adopted from Haiti. She is also a very public Christian. She told the 2006 Notre Dame Law School graduating class, “If you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.”
She has also written that Catholic judges should not impose their faith on others. In rare cases, they should recuse themselves when their religious conscience prevents them from applying relevant law.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein wasn’t satisfied, protesting during Barrett’s confirmation hearing that “dogma lives loudly within you.” Sen. Al Franken compared her speech before a religious freedom organization to giving a speech to Pol Pot, the genocidal Cambodian dictator. Sen. Dick Durbin asked her, “Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox Catholic’?”
Throughout the Scriptures, we are encouraged to pray. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples to keep asking, seeking, and knocking while trusting the heavenly Father to give what is good to His children (Matt. 7:7-11). And in Philippians 4:6, Paul urges us to respond to anxiety by praying about everything. Therefore, it’s obvious that God wants us to come to Him with all our needs and concerns.
Today’s passage assures us that the Lord hears and answers our prayers. However, this promise is accompanied by one very important stipulation: We must ask according to His will. But how can we know whether our request is what He desires? Much of God’s will is clearly revealed in Scripture, but what are we to do when an issue is not directly addressed in the Bible?
Though we’d like to feel confident that the Lord will hear and answer, at times our prayers seem like shots in the dark because we have no idea whether they align with His will. If we dare to admit it, there are also times when we just want God to do what we ask, without regard to what He desires.
If we want to pray effectively, our goal should not be to offer up quick, thoughtless, or self-willed prayers in hopes of receiving speedy answers. Instead, we must learn to pray wisely and wait patiently. Along with voicing our concerns and requests to God, we should also offer ourselves up in submission to our Father, as Jesus did in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39). When we are yielded and obedient to the Lord, His Spirit guides us and provides the wisdom we need in order to pray according to His will.
Bible in One Year: Daniel 1-2
Read: 2 Corinthians 5:11–21
Bible in a Year: Proverbs 13–15; 2 Corinthians 5
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.—2 Corinthians 5:19
Tham Dashu sensed something was missing in his life. So he started going to church—the same church his daughter attended. But they never went together. In earlier days, he had offended her, which drove a wedge between them. So, Tham would slip in when the singing started and leave promptly after the service ended.
Church members shared the gospel story with him, but Tham always politely rejected their invitation to put his faith in Jesus. Still, he kept coming to church.
One day Tham fell gravely ill. His daughter plucked up the courage and wrote him a letter. She shared how Christ had changed her life, and she sought reconciliation with her dad. That night, Tham put his faith in Jesus and the family was reconciled. A few days later, Tham died and entered into the presence of Jesus—at peace with God and his loved ones.
The apostle Paul wrote that we are to “try to persuade others” about the truth of God’s love and forgiveness (2 Cor. 5:11). He said that it is “Christ’s love [that] compels us” to carry out His work of reconciliation (v. 14).
Our willingness to forgive may help others realize that God desires to reconcile us to Himself (v. 19). Would you lean on God’s strength to show them His love today? —Poh Fang Chia
Is there someone you need to try to reconcile with? What practical first step can you take today?
Our willingness to seek reconciliation with others shows God’s heart to them.
INSIGHT: The “ministry of reconciliation” Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:18 is the story of the gospel. We were alienated from God, but in His mercy and grace He reached out to us. In sending Jesus, the Father extended the greatest offer of peace in human history—the Prince of Peace Himself.
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This well-known quote from the 1st Baron Acton, or Lord Acton, was not a new insight when he penned those words in a letter to a colleague in the late 19th Century. In fact, other figures throughout history have identified the corrupting influence of power. The French republican poet and politician, Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine who witnessed the uprising of the French people against the ruling monarchy wrote:
“It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free… the master himself did not gain less in every point of view… for absolute power corrupts the best natures.”(1)
Perhaps he had in mind the ironic result of the French Revolution which replaced the Monarchy with an Emperor named Napoleon Bonaparte.
Sadly, it does seem that power and corruption walk hand in hand. The news media around the world document scandal and abuse by the powerful with the oppression of the weak and the vulnerable a daily reality. Perhaps more tragic is the reality that there are those who hold sacred power, religious leaders of all faiths, who use the authority entrusted to them for malicious and evil purposes. While clergy sexual abuse scandals continue to emerge, stories of “spiritual abuse” and “authoritarian” leadership abound in houses of worship of every denomination and creed.
One of the ways we can discern that we are truly trusting God, rather than merely trying to trust Him, is whether or not our souls are resting in God’s faithfulness. If I say I am trusting God, but I continue to carry the weight of the burden by worrying and being anxious, then I have not released the burden to the Lord. I may want to. I may be trying to. But I have not done it yet.
Understanding this has helped me to learn what real trust in God is. It is more than words—it is releasing the weight of my burden; a decisive action that brings rest to my soul (mind, will, emotions).
Just imagine that you are carrying a backpack filled with rocks everywhere you go. You take it to work, to the market, to church, and it is a heavy burden, but you continue to carry it. Now imagine that you decide to drop it—just think how much better you would feel and how much easier everything would be.
That’s the way it is when we worry and carry the weight of burdens with us instead of entrusting them to God. We continue functioning and doing what we need to do, but the weight of the burden places a great deal of stress on us and makes our life very difficult. You can decide to drop your burden today by trusting God, if you choose to, and you will be glad you did.
“You wives must submit to your husbands’ leadership in the same way you submit to the Lord…And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the church when He died for her, to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word…
“Children, obey your parents; this is the right thing to do because God has placed them in authority over you. Honor your father and mother…
“And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord Himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice” (Ephesians 5:22,25-26; 6:1-4).
When a dear Christian friend came to me for counsel one day, he and I agreed that something was obviously wrong in his relationship with Christ.
“Do you know for sure that you are filled with the Holy Spirit?” I asked.
“Yes, I know all about the Holy Spirit and I know that I am filled.”
“Here’s a good test,” I suggested. Then I read him the above passage from Ephesians, whereupon the Holy Spirit helped him to realize, as he compared to this passage the daily reality of his walk with Christ, that he was not truly filled with the Holy Spirit. He was honest and confessed that he did not even begin to love his wife as Christ loved the church, nor did he have a good relationship with his children, but he wanted to measure up to the scriptural standard in both cases.
As we bowed together in prayer, by faith he claimed the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and God gave to him a joyful new relationship with Christ and with his wife and children, as well as with everybody else around him.
Bible Reading: Colossians 3:18-25
TODAY’S ACTION POINT: I will meditate on this passage from Ephesians 5. If these experiences are not real in my life, I will claim by faith the fullness and control of God’s Holy Spirit and ask Him to make them a reality in my daily relationship with the Lord, with my loved ones and with all others.
Our minds cannot be full of God at the same time they are full of fear! Don’t get lost in your troubles. Lift up your eyes! “He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord! (Isaiah 26:3 TLB).
Are you troubled, restless, sleepless? Then rejoice in the Lord’s Sovereignty. I dare you. I double-dog dare you—to expose your worries to an hour of worship. Your concerns will melt like ice on an August sidewalk!
Jeremiah draws a direct connection between faith and peace. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NKJV).
Read more Anxious for Nothing
Anxious For Nothing by Max Lucado Cover Art
As Hurricane Irma bore down on my brother and his family over the weekend, I was watching television coverage of the storm nonstop. I heard a commentator reporting from Florida make the perceptive statement, “The worst in Mother Nature often brings out the best in human nature.”
He was right.
The damage from this historic disaster is continuing. As of this morning, at least forty-two people have died because of the storm. Jacksonville, Florida, has experienced record floods. A flash flood emergency has been declared in Charleston, South Carolina. About 6.5 million people in Florida are without power.
But there is remarkable good news in the news.
The New York Times is reporting on sacrificial ways Christians are serving each other and their communities after Hurricane Harvey. One example is Rabbi Michael Vowell, a Messianic Jew (a Jew who accepts Jesus as his Messiah). According to the Times, he came to faith in Christ as a young man “as part of his escape from drug abuse and dealing.”
How does he deal with faith questions related to Hurricane Harvey? “My theology is that if I can see God moving through people, neighbors helping neighbors, I can shelve the bigger question of why is this happening,” he said. “That there are still people caring for each other is evidence enough that God is in this world.”
Sin cannot dominate believers who throw themselves upon the Lord’s mercy—the Father is faithful to restore fellowship with His beloved children. He does this by breaking down walls that were built up through disobedience.
However, it is our job to confess the specific bondage that holds us, since denial blocks the healing and freedom God offers. Whatever the nature of our sin, the root of the problem is ultimately spiritual, not simply a weakness or social ill. Treatment meant to ease our emotional, mental, or physical discomfort will not be fully effective until we acknowledge the spiritual aspect of our difficulty.
Though sin is uniquely spiritual in nature, the reasons behind wrong behavior are often emotional. Emotions trapped deep within the believer—like insecurity, inadequacy, or lack of self-worth—drive the individual to search out ways to satisfy or escape the feelings. What results is often some form of unhealthy behavior. For instance, at one time in my own ministry experience, I allowed myself to be overextended. Out of a sense of inadequacy, I was driving myself to succeed in “God’s work,” which turned out to be the responsibilities He gave me plus anything else I thought needed doing for Him. I discovered that freedom from bondage is a choice.
As Paul explains, Jesus’ followers must lay aside their sin. For me, that meant putting away my misguided drive to succeed and taking a long rest. Through the Holy Spirit, we voluntarily surrender our chains in order to gain freedom in Christ.
Bible in One Year: Ezekiel 46-48
Read: John 1:1–18
Bible in a Year: Proverbs 10–12; 2 Corinthians 4
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.—John 1:14
John Babler is the chaplain for the police and fire departments in his Texas community. During a twenty-two-week sabbatical from his job, he attended police academy training so that he could better understand the situations law enforcement officers face. Through spending time with the other cadets and learning about the intense challenges of the profession, Babler gained a new sense of humility and empathy. In the future, he hopes to be more effective as he counsels police officers who struggle with emotional stress, fatigue, and loss.
We know that God understands the situations we face because He made us and sees everything that happens to us. We also know He understands because He has been to earth and experienced life as a human being. He “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” as the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Jesus’s earthly life included a wide range of difficulty. He felt the searing heat of the sun, the pain of an empty stomach, and the uncertainty of homelessness. Emotionally, He endured the tension of disagreements, the burn of betrayal, and the ongoing threat of violence.
Jesus experienced the joys of friendship and family love, as well as the worst problems that we face here on earth. He provides hope. He is the Wonderful Counselor who patiently listens to our concerns with insight and care (Isa. 9:6). He is the One who can say, “I’ve been through that. I understand.” —Jennifer Benson Schuldt
Dear Lord, thank You for caring enough to humble Yourself and come to earth as a human being.
God understands the struggles we face.
How do you know that God exists? How do you know that God loves you? How do you know God is present versus absent? These questions, upon the hearts of so many, have answers as real as the formative moments in your life.
As I have aged I seem to grow more and more prone to nostalgia. Many of us do this instinctively, clinging to memories past, perhaps looking backwards with the hope of seeing a purpose for our lives. When I travel to India, I make it a point to revisit time and again those significant marking points of my own life. As I recall these moments past but not forgotten, I hear the gentle voice of the God very much in the present. And God says: I was there. When on you were on your bike contemplating suicide, I was there. When you were but nine years old and your grandmother died, I arranged for her gravestone to hold in time the very verse that would lead you to conversion. I was there.
It is often in these harrowing moments—your parents’ divorce, your child’s birth, the death of a loved one—where God leaves a defining mark. There is reason you remember such moments so vividly. We have a choice to hear or to ignore, but regardless his voice cries out in our memories, I was there. God has been in our past. God is here today. God will be there in our future. We have this promise in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
All of you must keep awake (give strict attention, be cautious and active) and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. — Matthew 26:41
The night before Jesus was crucified, He gathered the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and made just one request: All of you must keep awake (give strict attention, be cautious and active) and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
All the disciples had to do was stay awake and pray, but they kept falling asleep. Jesus, on the other hand, did pray, and an angel strengthened Him in spirit, enabling Him to endure the cross. The disciples didn’t pray—they slept—and proved that the flesh truly is weak.
To me, this story proves the critical importance of prayer. As Christians, we must realize that without daily prayer and interaction with God, we have nothing.
We all struggle with living according to our “weak flesh,” but when we make prayer a priority, God strengthens us in the spirit, allowing us to overcome the limitations of the flesh.
What are you relying on for strength today? Your flesh? Or are you experiencing the power that God so graciously gives us when we come to Him?
“Talk with each other much about the Lord, quoting psalms and hymns and singing sacred songs, making music in your hearts to the Lord. Always giving thanks for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ by submitting to each other” (Ephesians 5:19,20).
Mary was one of those ardent, faithful church members – a Sunday school teacher, choir member and active participant in a home Bible study – who just assume they are filled with the Holy Spirit because they do everything their pastor or Christian leader asks of them.
“Why has no one, up to now, ever told me that I needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit?” she asked me just after I had publicly suggested that very thing.
To help Mary better understand her own spiritual condition, I read to her the above passage from Ephesians. Then I asked her several questions relating to that portion of Scripture.
“Are you talking about Christ to others? Is your heart filled with melody to the Lord? Do you spend time in God’s Word daily? Do you have a thankful spirit? Do you submit to others in the Lord?”
Mary hesitated only a moment. “If these are evidence of a Spirit-filled life, I must not be controlled by the Holy Spirit. But I would like to be. What should I do?”
With great delight and joy I shared appropriate Scriptures with her, and together we bowed in prayer as she claimed by faith the fullness and control of the Holy Spirit in her life. Surrendering to the lordship of Christ, turning from all known sin, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, she now knew with certainty that she was filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is not a once-and-for-all-decision, but a way of life in which we claim the fullness of the Spirit moment by moment, day by day, by faith.
Bible Reading: Colossians 3:12-17
TODAY’S ACTION POINT: I will honestly compare myself with the evidences of the supernatural, Spirit-filled life listed in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. If these are not true in my life, I will claim by faith the fullness and control of God’s Holy Spirit, and ask Him to make these qualities a reality in my daily relationships with the Lord, with my loved ones and with others.
The next time you fear the future, rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty. Rejoice in what he has accomplished. Rejoice that he is able to do what you cannot do. Fill your mind with thoughts of God.
“He is the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:25).
“He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
“His years will never end” (Psalm 102:27 NIV).
He is king, supreme ruler, absolute monarch, and overlord of all history. An arch of his eyebrow and a million angels will pivot and salute! Every throne is a footstool to his. Every crown is papier-mache next to his. He consults no advisers. He needs no congress. He reports to no one. He is in charge.
Sovereignty gives the saint the inside track to peace. Others see the problems of the world and wring their hands. We see the problems of the world and bend our knees!