Promises about God’s Plan
There is a crucial difference between our plans and God’s: His plans never fail. The promises in this section show that God’s plans encompass even the seemingly accidental details of our lives, including the painful ones. Because God’s plans are good, you can have peace about the past, security about the present, and confidence about the future.
Life Has a Divine Purpose
Leviticus 15:31: A Separate Place
The Israelites separate themselves from unclean things, becoming acceptable to God and distinguishing themselves from the pagan nations around them. The New Testament admonishes us with the words, “Come out from their midst and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17), and it talks about physical and spiritual purity as well (7:1).
Whenever the times, whatever the culture, God calls His people to live in a separate moral and spiritual place from the rest of the world. As a bride and groom reserve themselves for each other, we’re to separate ourselves, all of our lives, unto the God we love.
Judges 3:10: On versus In
Before the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), God doesn’t dwell in His people. Instead, His Spirit rests on those selected for special tasks that require unusual action, wisdom, or strength. In the book of Judges, Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), and Samson (14:6, 19) also experience the Spirit of the Lord coming upon them. This action, however, is the exception rather than the rule.
Later, as Jesus prepares the disciples for His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, He promises to send them the Counselor who will teach them “all things” (John 14:26) and fill them with spiritual power (Luke 24:49). The Spirit descends on the first believers (Acts 2:1–4), marking His indwelling of all Christians at the point of salvation. According to Galatians 5:22–23, these qualities identify someone filled with the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do they characterize us?
2 Samuel 1:19: Falling Down
Even though Saul’s death ushers in David’s reign, the former shepherd still walks in humility. Here the soon-to-be king laments the losses of Saul, his enemy, and Jonathan, his closest friend. Even if only Saul had died, David would still have grieved. David had hoped for the restoration of God’s anointed, but Saul’s rebellion and demise mean that a mighty man, in death, has lost his esteem among people and his honor before God.
When the “mighty” fall in our own lives or elsewhere in the world, we can ask God to give us David’s sorrowing heart. “The Lord . . . is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Every lost soul matters to God.
1 Chronicles 14:17: The Price of Fame
David’s fame spreads because he reveres the Lord, not because of his own charisma or accomplishments. God enables David to accomplish all that he does, and even the surrounding nations fear and respect this king. For David and for us, the price of fame isn’t the burden of public exposure and responsibility. Rather, it is humility and obedience. Those who humble themselves before God and obey Him will be great in His topsy-turvy kingdom, where the first will be last and the last first (Matthew 20:16).
Isaiah 4:2: Becoming Holy
This passage refers to the remnant of Israel, those who will survive God’s wrath and refining fire. But its truth applies to us today as well. When we endure the consequences of our sin and repent, God promises that we will experience spiritual growth as a result of our ordeal. We will become more holy, and our sin will be washed away. We will not only survive but thrive and bear spiritual fruit.
Luke 4:43: Man of Purpose
With people clamoring for His attention, Jesus could easily limit His focus to a healing ministry. He could set up a clinic and cure thousands. But the Son of Man does not lose sight of His central mission: to preach the good news of salvation. Even when followers beg Him to linger in their villages, Jesus does not remain long in one place. He is compelled to move on to reach more and more people.
When we are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of attempting to balance our limited time and resources, this verse can encourage us to be more like Jesus and to set our sights firmly on our central purpose.
2 Corinthians 5:20: High Calling
An ambassador serves as a diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign state to another. Similarly, as God’s diplomats we represent His kingdom to the world, and especially to unbelievers. This commission is at the same time an amazing privilege and an awesome responsibility. Although we may not appear on our government’s political A-List, each one of us is indispensable to God’s kingdom work.
2 Thessalonians 1:11: Your Good Purpose
What would you like to do for the kingdom? Does the fire of evangelism burn in your spirit? Do you long to feed and clothe the downtrodden? Would you like to write? If the good purpose of your heart squares with Scripture, consider yourself prayed for in this endeavor.
Every Christian receives a good purpose, a divine calling, from God, a mission to accomplish in the world. Ask the Lord about your purpose. He wants you to know and fulfill it.
1 John 2:20: Holy Anointing
In the Old Testament anointing a person with oil sets him apart for God’s service. For example, “the Lord’s anointed,” “God’s anointed,” “My anointed,” “Your anointed,” and “His anointed” are all descriptions of King Saul (1 Samuel 26:9, 11), King David (2 Samuel 22:51), or King Solomon (2 Chronicles 6:42). The practice of anointing also applies to others, such as priests, prophets, and Nazirites.
The New Testament describes Jesus as anointed, and He expands the anointing to all of His disciples, including us. We belong to Him and to His service (2 Corinthians 1:21). In this capacity we also receive an anointing from the Holy Spirit, who saturates our hearts and minds with an understanding of God’s truth. We can live under this anointing but also receive special anointings for specific times or kinds of ministry. Through our anointing, the Lord meets our needs for spiritual insight, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, and effectiveness.
God Ordains All My Days
Genesis 19:26: Looking Back
Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and Gomorrah and loses her life. If God instructs us to move ahead, looking back can be an act of disobedience, even if the “old place” feels familiar and beloved.
An important element of moving ahead in God’s plan is determining to follow without clinging to the way things used to be. Longing for the past doesn’t bring it back, and doing so can disrupt our faith in the future. In contrast, receiving God’s new plan ushers in spiritual life and blessings. As we move ahead in God, which way will we look: backward or forward?
Genesis 24:56: No Delay
Abraham’s servant accomplishes his purpose in Nahor and doesn’t want to delay the completion of his master’s mission. He asks to take Rebekah with him immediately, not due to any impatience, but because he’s obedient and doesn’t want to obstruct Abraham’s plans or earn his displeasure.
Setting out to accomplish God’s plan means paying attention to His timing. When we procrastinate and delay obedience, we sometimes miss opportunities to minister and, as a result, we miss the subsequent blessings. Though God forgives our disobedience and restores us, acting quickly helps us to avoid the pain and allows us to inherit the rewards.
Genesis 26:2: Living in the Land
Isaac remains in Gerar because God tells him to “stay put” and not travel to Egypt. It’s in Gerar that God blesses him, not in Egypt, though that country looks enticing.
Once again God’s blessing connects to obeying Him instead of doing what looks good to us. To live well, under God’s protective and giving hand, we’re to follow His guidance. We’re to “live in the land” where He places us, whether it’s the city we dwell in, the job we fulfill, the people we associate with, or the home we inhabit. Like Isaac, our labor could reap a hundredfold (Genesis 26:12) and our families could find peace (vv. 28–29).
Do you feel God has called you to live in a certain place to do His work? If so, either stay there or go there. If you’re confident that you’re following God’s plan, that’s where you will flourish (Genesis 26:22).
Exodus 2:10: Drawn Out
Water carries different symbolic meanings in Scripture. For baby Moses it represents danger, but also salvation from certain death at the hands of Egyptian overlords (Exodus 1:22). His adopted mother names the boy so he will always remember his rescue from the rushing waters. In a fitting plot twist, years later Moses leads the people of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea as they escape from the Egyptian army (14:10–22). In both cases, God’s watchful eye is on His people, and His plan is fulfilled.
When God saves us, He often uses the thing that threatened us, or at least the memory of it, to offer salvation to others. (For example, former prison inmates are often extremely effective in ministering to people who are still incarcerated.) We participate in His redemption process by telling our story.
In what ways has God drawn us out of the waters? Those redemption episodes could define our ministry.
Nehemiah 2:20: The Source of Success
Nehemiah realizes that the king grants his request because “the gracious hand of my God was on [him]” (Nehemiah 2:8). Because of this he confidently claims that the Lord will give him and his workers success, despite the mocking ridicule of certain officials. Nehemiah roots his confidence in the Lord.
No matter how talented we are or how hard we work, the source of any success belongs to the Lord. “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to benefit, who leads you in the way you should go,” says the Lord (Isaiah 48:17). When we focus on God, depending on Him for guidance, we enjoy success. This success may not look the way the world defines it, but it will be success according to God’s plan. Following and obeying Him produce true prosperity.
Job 12:10: Life-Giving Hand
Catch a tiny sparrow, and we hold the power of life and death in our hand. We can either crush or cuddle the vulnerable creature. God holds us in His hand, but always with loving intent. His hand protects (Psalm 138:7), nurtures (Psalm 145:16), corrects (Psalm 32:4), and redeems us (Psalm 71:23). Our times are literally in His hand (Psalm 31:15). Thankfully, we can trust His handiwork.
Job 23:10–12: He Knows the Way
God knows the specific paths that we walk—the immediate and long-term plans, choices, and outcomes that characterize our life journey. But in this context Job refers to “the way I take” as our modus operandi in the midst of trials. Do we choose overall to live righteously or unrighteously? God gazes into our souls and honors the humility, submission, and obedience He uncovers there. When these heart attitudes are in place, He maps our overall direction, constructs our pathways, and guides our steps. Still, He tests and molds us, all the while assuring us that He is working with valuable materials—with gold and not rubble.
Psalm 31:15: My Life and Times
As much as possible, if we are emotionally and physically healthy, we work to preserve our lives and well-being. We try to be good stewards of our personal resources, taking care of our bodies and managing our time reasonably well. But we can’t control everything about our days, especially how many of them we spend on the earth. We may encounter illness, accidents, or other events that precipitate our untimely death. Only God knows our beginning and end. He ordains all our days. So if we can’t control our life and times, will we trust the One who does?
Psalm 138:8: His Responsibility
Once we know God’s purpose for us, we are sometimes tempted to shoulder the burden of our mission as though it all depends on us. We’re full of plans and pressure to get the work done. But if the purpose is God’s, it is also His responsibility and desire to fulfill it through us. Nobody and nothing can stop Him—not the enemy, not even our own bumbling mistakes. “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will consider you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). He who has called us is faithful.
Ecclesiastes 1:2: Meaningless, Meaningless
In one respect the Teacher who writes this book is absolutely correct: Life is meaningless if we chase after significance in the wrong places—in work, knowledge, prestige, pleasure. Certainly, these things are not inherently wrong, but they are spiritually debilitating if we pursue them devoid of God’s involvement. The author of this book grasps for significance through a variety of dead-end pursuits and winds up with an aching emptiness. He uses the word meaningless twenty-eight times in Ecclesiastes to emphasize the hopelessness of his condition.
Conversely, if we fill our souls with God’s Spirit and Word we can attest with the psalmist, “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:2).
Daniel 5:21: A Basic Lesson
God deposes King Nebuchadnezzar from his royal throne when the king’s heart turns hard and arrogant. And God restores the king only after Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges who truly controls the world. Here Daniel warns Belshazzar, who walks down the same prideful road, to learn from the lesson of his predecessor.
In God’s divine irony, true power originates in the humility of recognizing that God is God and we are not. This is a basic life lesson for us all.
Hosea 9:10: Unexpected Fruit
Grapes symbolize fruitfulness. Just as harvest time brings joy to those who tend the vineyard, so God finds delight in His children. But who would expect to find grapes growing in the desert? In a similar irony, God finds His children in unexpected places. He loves those who seem least lovable and calls forth life where there seems to be no hope for restoration. Although we live in a desert of sin, God seeks us out and rejoices over each successful search and rescue operation.
Mark 1:2: Preparing the Way
For four hundred years no prophets of God have spoken to Israel, so when Mark begins his Gospel he returns to the words of Isaiah. This Old Testament prophet had long ago predicted the voice of one calling in the desert. Malachi had also prophesied, “Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me” (Malachi 3:1). Both prophets heralded John the Baptist as a forerunner to the Messiah, and now that promise has been fulfilled. Mark wants his readers to understand the significance of this unusual man clothed in camels’ hair and leather. This comprehension, in turn, will prepare their hearts to accept the Christ.
Ephesians 1:4: His Choice
Before the beginning of time God knew every detail about each person He would create. None of our DNA strands represents a random genetic grouping. Each of us was created uniquely qualified to fulfill a specific purpose and plan—and we came into this world already enabled by the Spirit to be holy, blameless, and in close relationship with our Creator. God designed each one of us for His own purpose and pleasure; He is both the initiator and the ordainer of all our days and ways.
There Are No Accidents with God
Genesis 30:23: No More Disgrace
Although Rachel acts deviously and selfishly, God still grants her desire for a child. This birth is part of God’s plan, which no amount of conniving can thwart. Still, Joseph’s birth demonstrates God’s mercy and compassion for His people.
The Lord often gives us what we don’t deserve (Psalm 103:10) and lavishes goodness all around. Not only does He remove the external signs of our disgrace, but He heals the inner shame, too. He acts for “the sake of His name, so that He might make His power known” (Psalm 106:8), and to stay true to His unchanging character.
Ezra 1:2: Divine Appointment
Whether it’s a king or a prophet, a pagan or a believer, no person fulfills an influential position in history without God’s permission. Although this Persian king doesn’t worship Yahweh, Cyrus allows the Jews to return to their homeland and promises to provide the resources to build the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus may be motivated by political ends—to gain the Jews’ loyalty and therefore protect his empire’s borders—but God still accomplishes His purposes through this pagan king.
When it seems as though the wrong people have gained control, when current events don’t make sense, we can trust that God still rules the world. At any time, in any number of ways, He uses even unlikely people (whether or not they realize it) to bless believers and fulfill His purpose.
Lamentations 2:17: Powerful Words
Words function in various and powerful ways. We use words both to praise and to condemn, to inspire and to incite. We may make promises we cannot keep, but from God’s perspective words equate to action. Isaiah 55:11 promises that God’s words will not return to Him empty—His words will never be futile, ineffective, fruitless. Although we may speak frivolously, God never wastes His words. If He pledges to do something, we may be assured that He will follow through. Can we say the same for ourselves?
Habakkuk 1:13: All for His Purpose
Habakkuk asks a fundamental life question: Why do the evil flourish while the righteous suffer? If God is so pure, how can He use evil to accomplish His plan? We often ask these same questions today. We face heartbreak, persecution, financial reversals, and even death. And yet God uses that very suffering to work out His will and purpose in our lives.
Eventually, God will eradicate all evil, just as He destroys the evil conquerors in Habakkuk’s time. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic artist and advocate for people with disabilities, is often asked about the difficulties and frustrations intrinsic to her wheelchair-bound condition. After her paralyzing accident she learned over time to trust God completely and without reservation. She has explained that she would rather spend her entire life in a wheelchair, “walking” with Christ, than endure a single day groping her way through life without Him.
Nothing Escapes God’s Attention
Genesis 11:4: Making a Name
Only the Lord’s name is to resound through the earth, so people wanting to “make a name for [themselves]” compete with God’s sovereignty and expose their arrogance. Competing with God’s power leads to disaster. He confounds those who try towering over Him, who perceive themselves as equals, or who think of themselves as independent and self-sufficient. When we build monuments to replace God—even if those monuments are made up of nothing but pride—He’s sure to topple them. We will only succeed through following God’s plans, not our own.
Joshua 24:27: Rock-Solid Witness
All types of objects can symbolize our commitment to God. The Israelites erect a large stone as a witness, but a cross or a fish symbol might represent our devotion. Joshua explains that these symbols can witness for us if we remain committed, or against us if we stray from God. Instead of offering inspiration, a beautiful icon turns accusatory when our hearts harden.
So what will such symbols be for us—a symbol of commitment, or a witness against us? The answer resides within our own hearts.
Judges 9:56–57: He Will Repay
Sometimes we want to punish the wicked ourselves, but vengeance belongs to God and He will execute judgment at the right moment. He certainly repays Abimelech for his heinous crimes (Judges 9:42–55) and makes the men of Shechem “pay for all their wickedness” (NIV).
Romans 12:19 says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Whatever the circumstance, God knows the best time for payback time.
1 Kings 15:11: Doing What’s Right
Asa follows the Lord and seeks to do what is right. He cleanses his household of idols and returns holy articles to the temple. At the same time, however, he fails to remove the high places (1 Kings 15:14) where people worship foreign gods. Despite this omission the Bible asserts that Asa’s heart “was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days” (v. 14).
Even when we devote our lives to God and His work, we sometimes overlook the “high places” that need tearing down. We can ask God to reveal those areas that still need to fall under His lordship. He is merciful and will help us tear down the vestiges of past sin.
2 Kings 17:9: He Sees and Knows All
The statement that the Israelites “did things secretly against the Lord their God which were not right” might be laughable in its folly and shortsightedness, if it weren’t so tragic. The Israelites may think they’re sinning in secret, but nothing is hidden from God’s eyes. Accordingly, it tends to be the “hidden things” that cause us the most pain. The psalmist acknowledges, “God, You know my foolishness, and my guilt is not hidden from You” (Psalm 69:5). Yet because of God’s love, we can offer up our “hidden sins” to His redemptive light and be forgiven. Only then can we walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).
2 Kings 20:4–5: A Record of Tears
God notices tears. Whether they’re the effect of repentance or the overflow of sorrow from loss, not one drop falls without His knowledge. King David cries to the Lord, “Put my tears in Your bottle; are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8). Tears move the heart of God; we can trust Him with our sorrow, knowing that He listens. We can offer Him our confession, knowing that He forgives.
Ezra 5:5: He’s Watching
Contrary to the claim of a popular song, God isn’t watching us from a distance. He scrutinizes us closely because He is intimately involved in our affairs, working out circumstances on our behalf and in accordance with His plan. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who wait for His faithfulness” (Psalm 33:18).
Esther 4:3: Much Mourning
Perhaps Israel remembers these words of King David: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The Jews have heard that God honors and responds to repentant and mournful people—those who confess and call upon Him in distress, whether the crisis has resulted from personal sin or outside oppression. Such people stake their lives on the hope that God will note their weeping, wailing, and fasting, and that He will save them from destruction.
When life seems to collapse on us, when there appears to be no way out, we can emotionally cast ourselves on God. He isn’t a place of last resort. He’s our first line of defense.
Psalm 9:12: Any Affliction
God doesn’t ignore the oppressed and afflicted; in fact, Jesus Himself endured untold oppression and affliction (Isaiah 53:7). Hanging on a cross, bleeding to death as evil men mocked Him, our Savior bore terrible pain and humiliation. We are afflicted in many ways—through illness, mental and emotional anguish, ridicule from others, spiritual oppression, our sins and bondages. God notices and longs to touch these afflictions because on the cross “it was our sicknesses that He [Jesus] Himself bore, and our pains that He carried” (Isaiah 53:4). We can trade our hardship for His healing.
Psalm 50:14: Thank Offerings
The Israelites follow specific instructions for thanking God through sacrificial offerings. New Testament believers live free from the law, so we can thank God in limitless and creative ways. Whether through a generous, sacrificial donation to a ministry or the hushed prayer of thanks in the quiet of our own heart, God hears and welcomes our thank offerings to Him. How will we thank God today for His boundless and eternal generosity to us?
Psalm 94:11: No Secrets
“For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). How might we change if we were to remember on an ongoing basis that God knows our thoughts? Certainly we’d discipline our minds to think differently, and that would inevitably alter our speech and behavior. Thoughts translate into words and actions, and submitting our thinking to God would prevent regrettable mistakes. So we must strive to “[take] every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must honor God and acknowledge that we can’t keep secrets from Him.
Isaiah 5:13: God Is Watching
The verses preceding this one spell out the ways God’s people reject His law. Consumed with greed and drunkenness, they ignore their Lord, withholding from Him the respect He deserves. Do they assume God is not watching?
We must also ask ourselves the same question. So often we too live in denial, behaving as though God fails to notice our rebelliousness. But make no mistake: God is intimately familiar with our every thought, action, and motive. Yet if we acknowledge our sin and confess it, God promises to pardon us. How amazing that He knows and still forgives!
Isaiah 27:3: A Fruitful Vineyard
God fills the people in on His plans for them. Far from having forgotten them, He protects His own, paying attention to every detail leading to their deliverance. The preceding verse refers to Israel as a “fruitful vineyard” (NIV) that God carefully tends and watches.
Our heavenly Father likewise watches over us and lays out specific plans for our salvation and subsequent life in Him. He longs for us to be fruitful vineyards, tending and pruning and watering us so that we will be ready and able to bear spiritual fruit.
Jeremiah 2:19: Dire Consequences
The Israelites forsake the Lord, turning to false gods and political alliances, forgetting what their Creator has done for them. Jeremiah reminds the people of God’s goodness and points out that the Lord is angry over their rebellion. The prophet also explains that God is never capricious in His punishment; the Israelites have heaped dire consequences upon themselves.
When we slide into willful sin, when we compromise integrity or put idols like money or power or ambition before God, there can be no doubt that He notices. More often than not we bring upon ourselves the penalties of our wrong actions.
Jeremiah 12:13: Reaping Thorns
Trapped in the midst of political turmoil and frustrated with complacent people who refuse to listen, Jeremiah asks God the probing question, “Why has the way of the wicked prospered?” (Jeremiah 12:1). God laments the condition of His wayward people, then concludes with an answer to Jeremiah’s question: Although evildoers seem to prosper, the wicked “have strained themselves to no profit.” God sees their rebellion and wickedness, and in His time He will mete out the appropriate consequences.
Jeremiah 27:22: Coming Restoration
Jeremiah has a tough job as a prophet. He not only speaks the truth, but he also points out the lies of his contemporaries who falsely claim to be God’s prophets. These false prophets insist that the people will not be taken captive by Babylon, nor will their temple furnishings be carried off. Jeremiah counters this empty reassurance and insists that the people and the temple artifacts will indeed fall prey to Babylonian captivity. Yet the prophet does not leave the people hopeless. Jeremiah promises that, just as God will return the temple furnishings, so He will eventually bring His people back home and restore them.
How like our God! Even as He disciplines, He looks forward eagerly to eventual restoration.
Amos 9:5–6: I Am Who I Am
God identifies Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The Lord’s powerful presence is indeed all encompassing. In this passage the word Lord carries implications of a Being who is self-existent or eternal. God does not need anyone or anything, yet He chooses to belong to His people, who in turn belong to Him. He holds the universe in the palm of His hand, but we seemingly insignificant creatures are still of the utmost importance to Him. God is not just the Lord; He is our Lord.
Obadiah 17: Blessed Deliverance
As descendants of Esau, the Edomites are directly related to the Israelites, but at this point in history they are not on friendly terms. These distant relatives gloat over Israel’s devastation at the hands of foreign powers, but Obadiah foretells Edom’s own coming destruction, at the same time prophesying blessing for the Israelites. Those who live in the house of God receive blessings and deliverance from the persecution of their enemies.
Matthew 6:4: God’s Applause
As a former tax collector, Matthew understands from personal experience the Jewish leaders’ preoccupation with money and social status. Most likely thoughts and memories of his former occupation permeated Matthew’s thoughts as he recorded Jesus’ words about giving.
When we offer our gifts, not to gain approval but to honor and worship our Lord (who already owns everything), He rewards us beyond measure (Malachi 3:10).When we present our gifts humbly and cheerfully, we can’t possibly “out-give” the God who reciprocates in such lavish measure.
Matthew 10:29–30: Who’s Counting?
Try for one moment to imagine the scope of our Creator’s love! He is intimately acquainted with all our ways and everything about us (Psalm 139:3), including the exact number of hairs on our head at any given moment. Jesus reassures us that, just as God watches over each nondescript sparrow, so He makes the smallest details of our lives His intimate concern.
Incredible as it may seem, the fact is that we are invaluable to God, and everything that pertains to us—our relationships, our feelings, our schedules—are the objects of His care. Not one of His creatures is too small for the notice of the great Creator!
Mark 12:41–44: All of It
The widow showed her absolute reliance on God’s goodness by giving everything she had. And the God who provided for this defenseless widow can still be relied on to provide for us today if we are willing to relinquish our treasures and dedicate them to His service. Is there some “small” area in our lives that we need to give to God? A dream? A weakness? A hidden talent? What we may perceive as insignificant for God’s service, He may well view as priceless.
Mark 15:43: Behind the Scenes
As a wealthy member of the Jewish ruling class, Joseph disagrees with the council’s verdict against Jesus (Luke 23:50–51). But the Bible’s few words about Joseph do not begin to reflect the extent of his sacrifice. This high-profile political figure jeopardizes his career, reputation, and social status to make funeral arrangements for a man whom his close associates have labeled a blasphemer and rebel. Why does he risk so much? Because he has observed the man from Galilee and trusts in Him as the Messiah.
We may find comfort in remembering this New Testament Joseph while we are faithfully serving God behind the scenes, unacknowledged and unappreciated. Serving Jesus may and must involve a cost to us, but “the Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” (1 Samuel 26:23). In the final analysis, however, we serve Jesus because we acknowledge Him as our Messiah and desire in some small measure to thank Him for His incomprehensible sacrifice.
Luke 14:7–11: Rewards for Humble Pie
Somehow humble pie fails to satisfy our taste buds. We squirm at watching others advance or reap the praise we may feel we deserve, but we need to remember that our time will come. Jesus reminds us that when we humble ourselves we will eventually be honored. Whether on earth or in heaven, our God will exalt us in His time.
Luke 16:10: Money Matters
Jesus frequently discusses money, or mammon in Aramaic. In fact, the subject of money is mentioned more than fifty times in the New Testament alone.
God sometimes tests our integrity with the allure of money and personal property. It matters to Him whether we are faithful with His resources. He is pleased when we handle small financial details well, and sometimes chooses to increase our stewardship as we prove ourselves trustworthy.
Galatians 6:7–8: Reap the Reward
It is a maxim as surefire as death and taxes: What we sow we will also reap. If we plant gossip, hatred, or discord, we will garner the same evil upon ourselves. Although we can disguise our attitudes and actions, we can never fool God. He knows what we are planting, even when we work secretively. The best tactic is to confess the sin we have sown, ask God for forgiveness, and pull up the roots before the weeds can strangle us spiritually.
Ephesians 6:8: Good Rewards
In our sin-tainted world, faithful and selfless service often goes unnoticed. The reality is, of course, that God sees it all—and is pleased. In Ephesians 6:7 Paul encourages believers to serve wholeheartedly, “as to the Lord, and not to people.” And the apostle guarantees that if we do, the Lord will reward us.
Rewards on earth tend to be meager, and a life devoted to seeking the world’s affirmation too often culminates in disillusionment and bitterness. But a life dedicated to serving God, regardless of human recognition, will be honored by the Creator Himself.
Believers Are Called to Good Purposes
Leviticus 11:44: Consecrated and Holy
We are to be holy because God is holy. But like the Israelites, we cannot become holy on our own; sin is too deeply ingrained within us. However, if we repent and devote ourselves to God, He will clothe us in His holiness and righteousness. Just as the temple objects were carefully prepared and priests consecrated themselves to God, so we can be purified by opening our hearts in service to our holy God.
Numbers 6:24: Priestly Blessing
Here God gives the priests a wonderful blessing to pray over the people. Only the Levites could put God’s name on the Israelites (Numbers 6:27) with this priestly prayer. Today all believers serve as priests in God’s kingdom (1 Peter 2:5, 9).
When we bless one another, especially with this prayer, we pray that God will pour out His protection (Numbers 6:24), graciousness (v. 25), and peace on them (v. 26). When we bless others and observe God’s riches pouring out on them, we also experience a blessing—as did, no doubt, Aaron and his sons as well.
Numbers 30:2: Making Vows
For Moses and his contemporaries, contractual agreements are not an option. A person’s word is the only thing that binds one to a deal. Breaking a vow, then, severs trust in relationships and hampers a person’s ability to conduct public and personal business. The Lord deems people’s vows unbreakable, much like His own pledges to us.
A broken vow heaps shame on a group or individual; a vow fulfilled builds trust, friendship, and working relationships. It enables a person to gain credit and conduct business in a respectable manner. A fulfilled vow also pleases God and increases our self-respect. That’s as true today as it was then.
As the promises highlighted in this Bible work their way into your life, don’t forget the responsibility you have to keep promises too—to God, to others, and to yourself.
Numbers 35:34: The Good Earth
Here God tells His people to care for the land—a recurring theme throughout Scripture. The earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1), but He loans it to us for our use and pleasure. We’re to be responsible stewards of this generous gift, replenishing and protecting it from abuse. When we nurture the land, it feeds us. When we neglect the earth, it erodes along with God’s trust in our stewardship. God still loves and cares for His creation. Do we?
Judges 13:24–25: Stirring Up
Usually when the Bible mentions someone being “stirred up,” something terrible is about to happen. But the stirring within Samson’s heart prepares him for a good purpose—to become his people’s leader and judge. He’s destined to deliver Israel from the Philistines, and from childhood this desire grows within him. By the time Samson reaches adulthood, this mighty man’s passion to conquer matches the Lord’s redemptive plan.
When God calls us to a task, often He prepares our heart in stages. Bit by bit a small spark can turn into an unquenchable fire. So when we feel the slight sparks and stirrings within, we can feed them the tinder of small acts devoted to God’s will. In this way, the Spirit will slowly fan the embers into flames.
Judges 16:30: After Life
Samson’s shining moment occurs when he dies. Though God’s chosen servant fails in his original mission—being faithful to God in body, mind, and soul and obliterating the Philistines—the Lord redeems the situation and accomplishes this goal at what seems like the last possible moment. Through the Spirit’s empowerment Samson kills more Philistines when he dies than while he lived.
Sometimes God allows His servants’ work to prosper more after their death than in their lifetime. We may think that’s tragic, but our omnipotent Lord views it differently. The end of a life doesn’t mean the termination of effective ministry. The story of our lives and the message of our work can resound in people’s hearts for years, even centuries. So take heart and do good. Obey God and follow His path. The afterlife of our ministry could someday astound us.
2 Samuel 9:7: For the Father’s Sake
David extends his covenant friendship with Jonathan to Jonathan’s son: Mephibosheth receives kindness for the sake of his father. In God’s kingdom we are also to extend mercy for the sake of the heavenly Father. After all, we don’t deserve the heavenly Father’s compassion either, yet He loves and sacrifices for us, even while we are sinners (Romans 5:8).
2 Kings 4:2: Ready to Help
Elisha expresses a true servant’s heart when he asks the penniless woman, “What shall I do for you?” He proceeds to provide her with more than she needs to pull herself out of debt (2 Kings 4:7).
Spiritual leaders are first of all servants. They model themselves after the ultimate Servant, Jesus Christ, who does His Father’s will. The Father says of the Son, “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul delights” (Matthew 12:18). When we serve, we walk in God’s pleasure.
1 Chronicles 9:22: Positions of Trust
The gatekeepers earn their positions in the temple by their character, not by their résumés. They are guardians of the Lord’s house, men whom David—and God—can trust. The Lord doesn’t assign positions of responsibility and leadership on the basis of what we accomplish. Although training and experience can be profitable, God inspects our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 5:21). With Him, character counts. Want to be used in the kingdom? Be trustworthy.
1 Chronicles 25:8: Equal Opportunity
This is a charming picture of equal opportunity. The young and the old, the teacher and the student, together cast lots for their musical positions in the temple. God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34), and we are all equal in His eyes, equipped to minister and able to be used by Him. We are never too young or too old to glorify Him. The diversity of His servants pleases Him.
2 Chronicles 24:10: Glad Offerings
Here we witness the people gladly giving money to rebuild the temple. The apostle Paul cautions us that “each one must do just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Both the Old and New Testaments model such glad giving for us. We can in turn illustrate this practice to the world, and nonbelievers will observe how God gives back to us (Luke 6:38).
Esther 10:3: Working for the Good
For the rest of his life Mordecai works for the good of his nation. No doubt he is motivated by love for his people, but also by gratitude to the Lord for their deliverance. When God fulfills His promises to us, our hearts respond by desiring to serve and obey Him. We can say with the psalmist, “Deal generously with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word” (Psalm 119:17).
Psalm 15:3: Taming the Tongue
Most of this psalm answers the question, “Who may dwell with God?” The psalmist replies that such a person “walks with integrity” (Psalm 15:2), and that lifestyle includes declining to slander others. We think of slander as malicious spreading of lies, but the word also encompasses gossip, criticism, innuendo, misleading statements, or putdowns spoken with the intention of hurting someone else.
In that light, we need to ask God for forgiveness and help in taming our tongues. “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). Criticism and gossip too easily roll off our tongues. Habitual slander can stagnate a believer’s spiritual growth.
Do we want to enjoy God’s presence? “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10).
Psalm 90:17: The Work of Our Hands
Moses concludes his great psalm with a request for God to establish the people’s work. This is a fitting prayer for us, to ask God to confirm and secure our mission. Any work pleases Him when we’ve been called and empowered by Him to do it.
Psalm 133:3: Unity’s Blessing
One of Satan’s most insidious schemes centers on pitting believers against one another, thereby creating conflict in the body of believers. If we focus on what’s wrong with each other, we seldom accomplish what’s right for the kingdom.
On the other hand, great spiritual power resides in unity among believers. David calls this oneness good and pleasant and precious, like the oil that sanctifies priests (Psalm 133:2). Although God always shows up when believers assemble (Matthew 18:20), He is also pleased by those who meet in a spirit of unity.
Proverbs 11:25: Gaining from Giving
This promise presents one of the most amazing paradoxes in Scripture. The preceding and parallel verse says that “there is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more.” When we obey God by giving to others, by holding loosely our money and possessions, He gives us even more. But when we clutch tightly to ourselves what we have, we stand to lose even that. Jesus says, “The one who has lost his life on My account will find it” (Matthew 10:39), and the same is true of our money and material possessions. God calls us to be generous, and when we obey He in turn is generous with us.
Ecclesiastes 5:19: The Gift of Work
When God created the first man, He assigned Adam work to do in the garden (Genesis 2:15). Ever since that time God has given people meaningful tasks that fulfill His purpose for their lives. We may consider work a necessary evil, but that was never the Lord’s intent. Paul encourages, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people” (Colossians 3:23). The perspective of working for the Lord can infuse even the most mundane tasks with significance and satisfaction. To consecrate our work to God we can pray, “May the kindness of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
Jeremiah 15:11: Rescued for a Reason
Even though God punishes His people, He seeks those whose hearts belong completely to Him (see 2 Chronicles 16:9). Those who escape God’s wrath are not simply lucky; they are saved for a reason and called for a purpose. All believers are delivered from sin for a good purpose. To what role could God be calling you?
Ezekiel 7:27: Good Rewards
Although we could never be good enough to earn our own salvation without the intervention of our Mediator, Jesus Christ, our actions still matter to God. His Word tells us that our works will be tested by fire to determine whether they can “stand.” If even our best deeds have been done merely from the flesh or through our own volition, they will burn as wood and stubble. But if they have been accomplished with the aid of the Spirit and according to God’s will, they will be refined into pure gold (see 1 Corinthians 3:11–14). Still, the driving force for our good works must never be a desire for reward, but only a compulsion to demonstrate our love for God. We long to please the One we love, and our actions confirm this motivation.
Ezekiel 44:28: The Best Inheritance
God commands Israel’s priests to own no land and, consequently, they can leave no inheritance to their families. While this may seem unfair at first glance, the Lord proclaims that He Himself is all priests need. He is their full inheritance, and they are to glory only in Him.
The early priests of Israel provided a bridge between the people and God, but now we ourselves function as His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), fulfilling our priestly duties by creating a path for unbelievers to find God. Nothing we own can begin to compare to the pleasure of this responsibility, nor will any of our earthly possessions last into the next life. God is our all-consuming inheritance for all eternity.
Micah 3:8: Power and Capability
One of Micah’s primary objectives is to prophesy about Judah’s sin. Unlike other prophets of his time who refuse God’s call, Micah is filled with the Spirit of the Lord and His power, justice, and might, and he obeys unquestioningly.
We are called to do the right thing, even if that course of action is not the easy thing to do. In order to obey, we need the enabling power of the Lord’s Spirit. Without His power we are incapable of completing the tasks He sets before us. This reality is of vital importance because the distinction between wrong and right action and motivation often seems so tenuous. The justice and might of God, demonstrated through the unhindered working of His Spirit in our lives, spreads truth to those around us.
Nahum 1:15: Beautiful Feet
Jesus washes the disciples’ feet as an act of pure servant leadership. Nahum presents another spiritual implication of feet: They carry the good news of salvation far and wide. In Ephesians 6:15 Paul encourages us to fit our feet with readiness to carry the gospel of peace. While feet are not the most beautiful body part, they do play a key role in communicating the message of Christ, both figuratively and literally.
Zechariah 7:10: Specific Orders
We frequently admonish our children to be good. But how do they know whether they are complying? What does “good” look like? The fact is that we need to explain it to them. And we as adults can ask the same question of God: What does it look like when we love Him or obey His commands?
In this verse we find specific examples of faithful obedience. We care for those in need and refrain from thinking evil of one another. Both seem difficult in today’s selfish and suspicious society, but we can daily challenge ourselves to obey God. Only with God’s assistance will we be empowered to live what we say we believe.
Matthew 25:23: A Job Well Done
As our divine Master, Jesus entrusts us with resources. Our jobs, time, finances, and relationships are just some of the “talents” He has so liberally handed over to us. Through a parable recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus instructs us to use and multiply those talents for God’s kingdom, rather than “bury” them because of fear, excuses, or laziness. Whether we have been entrusted with one talent or ten, if we are faithful, we will someday hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful [servant]” (v. 21 ESV). Those words will make it all worthwhile.
Luke 10:29–37: Good Neighbors
The point of this parable is clear: We are to love and serve others in need, regardless of our cultural preconceptions or prejudices. Our “neighbor” refers not just to the person living next door but to any other individual with whom we come into contact, regardless of race, social standing, religion, or background. God may call us at any time to be a “good Samaritan” to someone in need.
John 13:5: Foot Washing
In biblical times the lowliest of household servants washed the dust and dirt off guests’ feet. But while certain of Jesus’ disciples jostle for positions of greatness (Luke 22:23–24), Jesus unassumingly begins washing their feet. He treats all twelve with equal love and respect—selflessly ministering even to Judas, His betrayer.
The Son of God exemplifies the true servant mentality for us. God Himself willingly cares for the needs of others, and we can and must learn from His example. Who could benefit from your ministry today? With humble hearts we can offer our service to everyone in Christ’s name.
Acts 8:31: Spread the Word
When Philip witnesses to the Ethiopian, a door opens for the gospel to spread through Africa. This conversion also symbolizes the gospel’s availability to everyone, since eunuchs are not permitted full membership in the Jewish community. The eunuch’s need for someone to explain the words of Isaiah parallels Paul’s words in Romans 10:14: “How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard?”
We are called to tell others about Christ. He offers His salvation to all, and He gives us the incredible privilege and responsibility of spreading the good news.
Romans 1:5: We Are Called
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul identifies “apostles” as being among those who have inherited spiritual gifts that build up the body of Christ. But what, or who, is an apostle? In Greek the word means “messenger” or “a sending mission.” An apostle is one who is commissioned and sent on behalf of another person.
Jesus served as the original apostle. His disciples became apostles, as did Paul. By definition we are called to be apostles, too. Whether in our workplace or neighborhood, across the street or across an ocean, we are messengers of the gospel. Along with Paul and countless others, we can serve through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord and for His name’s sake.
Romans 10:15–17: Bold and Beautiful
Long before the days of mass transit and overnight mail service, messengers personally delivered news from a battle scene to a waiting king. The prophet Isaiah, whom Paul quotes in verse 15, proclaims that the feet of such messengers are “beautiful.” So too are the feet of anyone who carries the saving words of Jesus Christ straight from the fury of the spiritual battle raging all around us to those who desperately need the good news.
The gospel has always depended on messengers for its transmission. After all, we cannot believe in a message if we have not heard it. That’s why Jesus Christ commissions each of us to boldly carry His words to others. And when we do, our Lord regards us as beautiful and blessed.
Romans 14:1: Heaven’s Business
C.S. Lewis stated that “joy is the serious business of heaven.” However, we as human beings never cease trying to make joy the business of earth by seeking to satisfy our desires with the tangible. We are concerned about what we eat, what we wear, what we do, and who we know. But only in righteousness and servanthood can we experience true joy. Why substitute the temporary when the eternal is ours for the asking?
2 Corinthians 2:15: Sweet Smells
Ever come home near the end of a long day to the alluring smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies? The aroma permeates the house, calling up pleasant associations from the past and making us happy even before that first mouth-watering bite. We as Christians are called to be the fragrance of Christ Jesus to those who have not yet met Him. But what kind of smell are we? With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s sweet fragrance can flow through us and waft its way to others, attracting them to Him as surely as the aroma from that plate of warm cookies.
2 Corinthians 8:9: Gaining from Giving
Under the topsy-turvy value system of the Bible, we as believers know that, if we want to be first, we must be last (Mark 9:35). If we want to save our lives, we must lose them (Mark 8:35). If we want to be rich, we must be willing to relinquish our material possessions and social status and become poor (Mark 10:17–22). In God’s economy, we gain by giving away.
Philippians 2:12–13: Purposeful Acts
To encourage his readers, Paul focuses on the present-tense aspect of salvation, emphasizing that righteous living is not primarily dependent upon our own feeble efforts. When we find ourselves incapable of, or unwilling to, obey, God will empower us to act according to His will. His purposes for us are invariably good, and His greatest desire is for us to accomplish them.
We are never to become complacent about our own obedience and spiritual growth. Instead, we are called to do our part, yielding to the Holy Spirit and trusting that God will enable us to do the rest.
Colossians 3:23–24: Whom Do You Serve?
Some of us reside high on the “food chain” in our places of employment. Others feel more vulnerable and view themselves as perpetually in danger of being swallowed up. Regardless of our position, God asks us to do our work as though we are directly serving Him. Although an earthly, fallible boss signs our paychecks and evaluates our performance, God Himself will present the awards when we stand one day before Him.
Remember, too, that God is with us always, enabling and encouraging us. Although we are to respect and obey human authority, He ultimately calls us to please Himself rather than any person (Acts 5:29). Providentially, God is usually the easier one to satisfy!
Colossians 4:6: A Ready Answer
Salt is one of the most widely used food seasonings and preservatives, enhancing a food’s flavor and prolonging its shelf life. Paul points out that if our conversation is full of grace and “seasoned with salt,” we will respond appropriately to others, especially to those who ask about the reason for our faith. Our “salty” speech can lend the flavor of enjoyment to our interactions with others and preserve an atmosphere of openness, trust, and good will.
1 Timothy 1:5: Led by Love
Paul doesn’t beat around the bush when making a point. At the beginning of this letter he charges Timothy to refute the false teaching in Ephesus. Even though he’s direct, Paul’s motives focus on the believers’ spiritual well-being and not selfish gain. Because Paul speaks out of “love from a pure heart,” God uses him to present clear, straightforward directives to the church.
As we communicate with others, whether or not they know Christ personally, we can carry that same motivation. Love can lead them to God’s truth.
Titus 2:7: Walk the Walk
Throughout the book of Titus, Paul repeats the idea of “doing what is good.” While he doesn’t promote legalism, he offers advice to Titus about how best to conduct himself as a leader. It’s important not to just “talk the talk” but also to “walk the walk” of a believer. The witness of a godly life can silence critics who attempt to find fault.
1 Peter 2:12: Good Deeds and Glory
Peter reminds these scattered believers to keep their behavior above reproach. He knows that persons hostile to the gospel will look for reasons to discredit Jesus’ followers. Missteps could damage their testimony in the community, and perhaps by extension throughout the ancient world. But rather than emphasize the negative, the apostle encourages Christians to “keep [their] behavior excellent,” full of “good deeds,” so that nonbelievers will someday glorify God.
Even if we are innocent but accused of wrongdoing, the final evidence will vindicate us. God’s way invariably wins in the end.
2 John 6: Requited Love
John’s message is not new. Jesus Himself says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” and, conversely, “The one who does not love Me does not follow My words” (John 14:15, 24). Jesus understands the flow of true love. If someone loves us lavishly and treats us tenderly, we are eager to love that person in return.
We can describe no greater manifestation of love than a person dying for his or her friends (John 15:13), and that is precisely what Jesus was willing to do for us. It is natural, then, for us to want to please the Savior, and our obedience gladdens His heart.
3 John 11: Goodness and God
John’s message is simple: “What is good is of God.” By good in this context, the apostle is referring to the consistent practice of virtue—not for pretense, but with a spiritually sincere and surrendered heart.
In one sense, God originates all good because He personifies goodness. For Him to be anything but good would be to deny His character. So even if good deeds sometimes originate from bad motives, the positive effects reflect God’s goodness. Whether or not we intend to do so, we practice goodness for God’s sake.
Pain Forges Our Character
Job 5:17–18: Blessed Correction
Eliphaz misdiagnoses Job’s predicament, but he is accurate about God’s correction of His children. Sometimes the Lord breaks our spirits so that He can realign our hearts and habits according to His divine measurements. Even though the process inflicts pain, He doesn’t leave us to writhe in agony. The breaking lasts only long enough to direct us toward healing. What God wounds He also binds up and heals (Job 5:18). His correction blesses us because it promotes our health and spiritual growth.
Proverbs 17:3: The Refining Fire
When silver is melted in a crucible, all the dross burns away. Painful situations in our lives can feel like crucibles, but God can use them to refine us, to clear away the nonessentials, to make us pure. God tests our hearts because He loves us. He has never promised that everything in life will be easy. But He does lovingly pledge to be at our side: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. . . . When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched” (Isaiah 43:2). The next time you feel the flames licking about your feet, think about the eventual outcome: The Father intends that you be purified—not destroyed.
Isaiah 48:10: In the Furnace
In hardship we often ask, “Why me?” For the Israelites, God has an answer: “For My own sake, I will act” (Isaiah 48:11). The Israelites are God’s chosen people, yet they defame Him with their stubborn rebelliousness. God allows His people to face difficulties to test and refine them so that they will return to Him and live up to their heritage as His chosen people. Likewise, He sometimes allows our character to be refined by painful circumstances.
Ezekiel 16:7: Growth in God
Earthly parents are powerless to cause their children to grow. Adults may affect their children’s development by providing proper nutrition and encouraging physical exercise, but they are unable to determine the rate of physical growth. On the other hand, God causes His children to grow. He personally knit together each person, and He knows exactly how and when each will change in stature and appearance. He also prompts us to grow spiritually, creating the appropriate conditions to promote inner growth.
We might not always appreciate God’s methods, particularly when they include an element of pain. But God always works in our best interest to precipitate spiritual growth.
Ezekiel 24:11: Everyday Purity
The concept of purity is rooted deeply in the Israelites’ lifestyle. Many daily routines revolve around the need of God’s people to remain undefiled before their Maker. While most of these activities stress outward cleanliness, God cares deeply and fundamentally about the condition of their (and our) hearts.
His method for creating internal purity parallels the refining process for gold or silver—passing through the fire. In this process costly metals are heated to such a high temperature that their impurities melt away, leaving an uncontaminated substance. When God allows trials in our lives, it is helpful for us to remember that He is refining us so that we can emerge as pure as gold.
2 Timothy 3:12: Counted with Christ
To encourage persecuted believers, Paul reminds them that he’s suffered and endured, too. Paul realizes he’s near the end of his life and wants to remind the church of God’s faithfulness, especially during persecution. The apostle stresses that anyone who lives for Christ will encounter trouble because of his or her faith.
We might think of persecution as punishment, when it’s really the mark of a faithful and godly believer. In fact, persecution allows us to share in the suffering of Christ, to be made more like Him. It’s not that we should seek persecution or offer ourselves as false martyrs, but we can rejoice during trials knowing that we’ve been counted with Christ.
Hebrews 5:8: Trust and Obey
Jesus grows in obedience by relying on His Father through painful and difficult situations. We too learn obedience and trust through suffering. Just as Jesus suffers for the sake of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), so we can learn the secret of inner joy and peace by entrusting our well-being to God in the midst of life’s trials. As a familiar hymn puts it, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”2
1 Peter 3:17: Significant Suffering
God’s Word places great spiritual significance in people suffering for Christ. Over the centuries, this passage and many others like it have given comfort and solace to believers who have suffered greatly for the cause of their faith. Still today reports of persecution of Christians sometimes surface in the daily news. But even though we may be relatively unaware of what suffering is going on in the world for the cause of Christ, God notices and never forgets that His people are undergoing trials for His sake.
Peter reminds us, however, that there is a difference between suffering for Christ and suffering that comes about as the result of our own sin. Self-inflicted pain resulting from our own sin often brings about spiritual erosion. Enduring hardship for the cause of Christ, on the other hand, produces godly character and a peaceable righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). For which would you rather suffer?
1 Peter 5:10: God’s Restoration
Whatever the cause for our suffering, God uses it for good. His holy hand rescues, refines, and restores us, making us internally strong and externally steadfast. He uses our pain to erect a spiritual foundation from which we cannot be toppled. And from that vantage point we can shine as beacons of light to those still groping in darkness.
Pain Focuses Our Hope
1 Samuel 1:20: Ask and Receive
Through years of disappointment and ridicule from her husband’s other wife, Hannah begs God for a child. Finally, she gives birth to Samuel, but not without recognizing that her ability to conceive comes from the Lord. She names her son Samuel to express gratitude to God and to acknowledge the source of this long-awaited gift.
Centuries before Jesus visits the earth, Hannah practices His teaching: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Centuries after Hannah’s desperate prayers, we draw inspiration from her hope and faith.
Job 16:19: The Only Advocate
God’s actions may disappoint and frustrate us, but ultimately He is our only hope in this world. Consequently, to preserve and grow in our faith we must reconcile ourselves with this irony: The One who allows us to be wounded is the only One who can heal us. Although Job’s hoped-for advocate remained unnamed, we today can claim the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, who knows our needs even better than we do (Romans 8:26–27).
Psalm 13:6: Singing to Him
Singing to the Lord honors and glorifies Him, but it also benefits us. Especially when we sing of God’s goodness, as David does in this psalm, we are encouraged and invigorated to trust our heavenly Father. “Singing and making melody with [our] hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19) lightens, uplifts, and restores our spirit.
Psalm 71:21: Unexpected Honor
When “many troubles and distresses” are dumped on David (Psalm 71:20), he believes that God will not only restore his provisions but also increase his honor. This is a high hope, but David places his confidence in a faithful (Psalm 71:22) and restorative God, who gives more than we could ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Do we trust God for this? Usually when we find ourselves in a tight spot, we think only thoughts of getting out. Following David’s example, we can trust in God for the best, even if we find ourselves in the pit of debt, disease, divorce, depression, or some other dilemma. He wants to heal and uplift us, restoring our honor in the process.
Isaiah 1:25–26: Blessed Brokenness
Many of us realize our biggest gains in spiritual growth through suffering. In this we may take heart, as brokenness can lead to blessedness. Even when we suffer because of our own sinful choices, we are not without hope. God’s discipline for sin ultimately yields the fruits of faithfulness and righteousness. Our difficulty, if it leads us to repentance, fosters redemption and growth.
Luke 5:18: The Way to Jesus
In biblical times, most houses were made of stone with a flat roof of mud and straw. However, Luke describes this residence as a dwelling with a tile roof. It is not a simple proposition to tear apart a roof and lower a person through the gap on a stretcher. Yet these men determine to bring their friend to Jesus, with no concern for the degree of effort or the inconvenience to themselves.
We do well to remember that even when the situation seems impossible, or the way fraught with great risk and difficulty, there is always a way to Jesus.
Acts 13:52: Unspeakable Joy
The book of James exhorts us to face persecution with joy. These are noble words to speak, but a difficult code by which to live. Yet Paul and Barnabas provide living examples of joyfulness in suffering. Joy, as a fruit of the Spirit, strengthens us. Regardless of the difficulties we experience, the Spirit’s joy will sustain us—if we will but receive it.
Acts 21:13–14: Looking Ahead
The hymn writer Joseph H. Gilmore writes, “E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, since God through Jordan leadeth me” (“He Leadeth Me”). These words exemplify Paul’s attitude as he looks ahead. The apostle realizes that he is bound for persecution and perhaps even death, yet he trusts God implicitly. When we say “the Lord’s will be done,” we, like Paul, can rest in the knowledge that we are in God’s hands.
Hebrews 11:1: Trust the Real Thing
For what do we hope? The apostle Paul asserts in Romans 5:2 that “we celebrate in hope of the glory of God.” We hope that God will continue to accomplish all that He has promised, but our expectation goes far beyond conjecture and wishful thinking. It is not what we tangibly see that bolsters our anticipation of future fulfillment and reward, but rather our faith in God. Ours is a hope that is firm and sure, grounded in the surety of God’s Word. C.S. Lewis expresses this in succinct terms: “We trust not because ‘a God’ exists, but because this God exists.”3
Evil Persists, but God Rules
Judges 2:14: Raiders of the Lost Heart
The Lord grows so angry with Israel for forsaking Him and worshiping the Baals that He allows the nation’s enemies to raid and plunder them. The Israelites lose their military battles but, despite great distress, won’t repent and follow the one true God. They harden their hearts and don’t seem to get the connection between their disobedience and their troubles.
Though God is patient and longsuffering, at some point He hands chronically rebellious people over to the consequences of their disobedience. God gives them over to their sinful desires and lusts (Romans 1:24, 26) and to Satan’s batterings. As we look at our own lives, let us be mindful of the consequences of our own willful disobedience. And as we pray for those who don’t know the Lord, we can ask that the “kindness and restraint and patience” (Romans 2:4) of God will lead them to repentance before it’s too late. He wants lost hearts to be found.
Esther 2:8: Pomp and Arrogance
Xerxes the Great is Persia’s fifth king and one of the richest men in the ancient world. He flaunts his wealth in a six-month celebration, culminating in this banquet. He plans a military campaign against Greece, and the half-year bash gives notice to his allies and enemies that he can aptly finance and wage war. Ironically, after all the pomp and circumstance, Xerxes ultimately loses his battle with Greece.
The celebrations of arrogant, self-focused people often end that way. Proverbs claims, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not be unpunished” (16:5), and, “Before destruction the heart of person is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (18:12). This promise plays out in Esther’s story. In the end, the wicked meet humiliation and death, but the humble receive honor and life. It may take time, but the arrogant will often bring about their own demise.
Job 21:7: Wicked Success
Why do the wicked prosper? This is an ancient and universal question, one that we cannot adequately answer because we don’t fully know God’s mind. But if we envy the wealth, health, and seemingly carefree lives of the wicked (Psalm 73:4, 12), we are gauging our success by the wrong standard. True success—prosperity according to God’s criteria—resides in our spirits, not in accumulation of goods and external appearances. “God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Possessions and bodies eventually deteriorate and die, but the spirit lives forever. If the wicked never repent and turn to God, the evil that dwells in their hearts will haunt them for eternity (Proverbs 10:16).
Psalm 96:10: Justice for All
“He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples fairly” (Psalm 9:8). At the end of time God will judge all people fairly, just as He now offers His grace and salvation to all. Because God is righteous and holy, He must dispense justice. Yet He is not willing (desirous) that anyone should perish in the upcoming end-time judgment, but that beforehand all should come to repentance and faith in Him (2 Peter 3:9). His impartial and loving heart grants salvation to all who will believe.
Ezekiel 14:22–23: Faithful Consolation
We often grieve about the relentless force of evil in our world. Why does God allow it? The presence of evil can make us cynical that God is at work and that He acts justly. But God promises that on the appointed day He will judge evil people for the condition of their hearts and for their actions. Along with this judgment He will demonstrate a boundless love for His children and unfold more details of His purpose and plan. Although we now see the outlines of God’s big picture only sketchily, someday we will stand back in awe to view every nuance of color, shade, and design (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).We will feel consoled not because wicked people have to suffer in eternity, but because God will prove Himself faithful to His plan.
Ezekiel 23:48: Then and Now
The daily news is replete with stories about evil in our world, and the standard for what is “acceptable” seems to dip lower and lower with each passing year. Could the situation be worse? Scripture reveals that ancient civilizations behaved immorally, too. So, just as God punishes lewdness in Ezekiel’s culture, He will also deal with similar sins today. His measuring rod for immorality and His standard of discipline remain the same, then and now and into the future.
Daniel 8:25: According to His Will
We observe the world’s leaders and assume that, for better or worse, they are in control. We at times presume that they hold the power of life and death, and that they have the ability to change the course of history. But in reality, God both establishes rulers and deposes them (see Psalm 2:10–12; Proverbs 8:15–16; Luke 1:52). Although we often fail to understand why He allows certain events to occur, we live in the comfort of knowing that nothing happens without His permission.
Romans 2:1–4: Endless Kindness
The Roman Christians grow impatient waiting for God to judge those who refuse to repent, and in frustration they begin taking this role upon themselves. But Paul reminds them that judging others heaps judgment upon themselves (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1). Instead, Paul instructs these well-intentioned believers to rejoice that God patiently waits for sinners to repent.
God will eventually judge the world, but He tarries so that pardon can prevail. We can appeal to this kindness as we pray for His forgiveness, for the salvation of friends and family, and even for the eventual liberation of the whole world from the tenacious grip of sin.
2 Peter 3:15: Godly Delay
Jesus Christ left the earth nearly two thousand years ago, and we, in company with earlier generations, still eagerly await His return. We long to live in the peaceful, perfect world that He promises will one day be ours. But the heavenly Father does not desire that anyone should perish. Each day that He delays the Lord’s coming affords an opportunity for more people to accept eternal salvation and enter His kingdom. What parent would do less?
With this in mind, we can wait more patiently for Christ’s return. Our earthly pressures fade when compared to hell’s hopelessness and fury. With the Holy Spirit’s grace and power, we can endure so that others might not perish.
Jude 17–18: Scoffers Beware
Jude warns believers that in the last days there will be scoffers—those who mock and disdain the gospel. However, we need not feel surprised or alarmed at this prospect. Herod, the soldiers, the religious leaders, and even strangers mocked Jesus as He struggled on that final, arduous journey toward Calvary.
If we share in Christ’s suffering, nonbelievers might ridicule us, too. But scoffers, beware: Jesus overcame the cross and will return to earth as the victorious King, casting unbelievers into fathomless gloom but escorting His faithful followers into eternal glory.
 In Lewis’s Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
 Words by John H. Sammis, “When We Walk with the Lord” (1887).
 From Lewis’s essay “On Obstinacy in Belief.”