Kindness in Action

Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behavior.
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you,
then grab the initiative and do it for them.
—Matthew 7:12, The Msg.

Kindness in Action

By Pat Knight

In the orthopedic surgeon’s waiting room, several of us were anticipating an X-ray prior to our first post-surgical visit. Seated near me was a man holding a fistful of medicine bottles, nervously rolling them in the palms of his hands. He was muttering angrily in broken English to his companion that he couldn’t understand the necessity of having another X-ray, and he was “planning to tell them so.” Just then, a young, vivacious X-ray technician addressed the distraught man by name and announced, “I’m going to take a quick X-ray before you see the doctor.” With great effort, he stood up, flashing a side-long glance at the technician, as if reconsidering his defiant approach.

The technician offered her outstretched arm for him to grasp, asking, “Can I help you?” Even before he replied, she steadied him as they began walking, cheerfully chatting about the beautiful weather that day. It was apparent the man had reformulated his plan of opposition in response to cheerful kindness. If I were to venture a guess about the outcome, I think they had a pleasant visit, with the man’s anger dissolving as quickly as the melting winter snow on his boots.

In God’s Word, the Golden Rule is the most universally known command guiding our behavior, though not commonly practiced. The rule instructs us to treat others as we want to be treated. One Bible translation takes our responsibility a step further. “Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them” (Matthew 7:12, The Msg.). Since everyone craves kind treatment, it is each believer’s function to disseminate kindness to others. The vehicle of kindness operates with the fuel of cheer, propelled by good works. Imagine what a pleasant world it would be if each individual made kindness a priority.

Some acts of kindness are premeditated when we are alerted beforehand to a need. Joshua secretly sent two spies to the walled city of Jericho to assess how best to attack and capture the inhabitants and the land. The king was apprised of the presence of spies in his city, so he confronted Rahab, a prostitute and innkeeper, as to her knowledge of the stranger’s whereabouts. She admitted the spies had been in her establishment but that they had left before the gates of the city were closed at dusk. Rahab deceptively directed the soldiers to follow the spies toward the Jordan River. In reality, she had hidden the two spies underneath flax drying on her rooftop.

Rahab informed the spies that her people were well aware of the continual miracles their God had performed to rescue and protect the Israelites. She specifically mentioned their knowledge of the parting of the Red Sea, causing the citizens of Jericho to melt in fear because of the Israelite’s God. Rahab professed her personal faith: “‘The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below’” (Joshua 2:11). Then Rahab offered to help the spies if they saved her family before the city was destroyed. “‘Please swear to me by the Lord, that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you’” (v.12). The spies agreed. “‘Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land’” (v.14). From her window in the city wall, Rahab let the spies down to the ground and instructed them to hide in the hills until the militia abandoned their search in three days.

The mutual kindness between strangers was predicated on trust. For their agreement to succeed, it was necessary for both partners to remain faithful. The spies must remember their promise to Rahab. She agreed to drop a scarlet cord from her outside window to identify the location of her family. Ultimately, all the believers were following the will of God, who orchestrated the perfect plan. “‘I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24b). Rahab and her family were saved, she was honored by Joshua, and her name is forever engraved in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).

In addition to deliberately planned acts of kindness, we frequently perform random, spontaneous benevolent deeds. We spring into action when a situation presents itself. The moment may not be the most opportune for us, but in that instant we decide that another’s delight or safety is more important than our own convenience.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. ─Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, a man was walking alone on a road with a notorious reputation for sheltering opportunistic robbers who ambushed defenseless travelers. The pedestrian was attacked physically, stripped of his clothes and valuables, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite passed the beaten, bleeding man, ignoring him by crossing to the opposite side of the road. A Samaritan, hated by Jews and labeled a half-breed, came to the aid of the dying man. He anointed the man with oil and wine and bandaged his wounds. Then he lifted the stranger onto his own donkey, delivered him to an inn, and personally cared for him. The following day the Samaritan gave the innkeeper enough money to house and care for the stranger until he returned, at which time he promised to reimburse any additional funds he owed. (Luke 10:30-37). The parable illustrates the total devotion demanded by the Great Commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Kindness is defined as extending tenderness or goodwill; lavishing with happiness and grace. In God’s Word, it is frequently synonymous with love, lovingkindness, or unfailing love, often summarizing God’s covenants with His people. The Lord said, “‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you {to myself} with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah31:3).

On earth, Christ showed kindness to everyone He encountered, regardless of their status. It is imperative that we learn the life principle Jesus embraced. When the Messiah was crucified, His body had already been physically abused beyond recognition. Tortured and with His last remaining trace of energy, Christ offered compassion to the criminal crucified on the cross beside Him.

“‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Christ granted kindness during His worst hour. Surely we can express similar outreach to others during our best of times. God expects more than civility in our relationships; He empowers us to adopt Jesus’ attributes. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Our compassion and kindness that imitate Jesus indicate a deep stirring within our inner spirit. True character is revealed when the charity that wells up in our hearts converts to tangible acts of lovingkindness.


All Bible references are taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.

Doubting Thomas?

Doubting Thomas?

By Pat Knight

Thomas replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

─John 20:25

On Easter Sunday evening, “When the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After this he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). At first the disciples were paralyzed with fear, but Jesus reassured them, “Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:38-43), demonstrating that He had a functioning physical body that desired food.

The disciple Thomas was absent from the group on the evening following Jesus’ resurrection. When his fellow disciples relayed to Thomas, “‘We have seen the Lord,’” Thomas replied, “‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’” (John 20:25).

The following week, when Thomas was gathered with the disciples, Jesus again appeared to them through locked doors, then focused His attention on Thomas. “‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27), an admonition which also applied to future believers. Jesus was patient and merciful to allow Thomas the same opportunity to feel His scars as He had provided the other disciples the previous week. Immediately, Thomas confessed a climactic, credible confession, “‘My Lord and my God!’” (v.28).

We have no indication that Thomas touched his Lord’s wounds. It wasn’t necessary; Thomas instantly recognized his Master—His voice, His authority, His love. Jesus tenderly and compassionately meets the honest doubts of believers. As with Thomas, He willingly provides proof without criticism. Often during a period of doubt in our lives, we are led to new spiritual enlightenment. It is important that we allow doubt to function positively to develop our faith in the sovereign Lord. “Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults” (Isaiah 51:7b).

God is compassionate toward a believer who seeks self-knowledge and the help only He can provide. Our Lord will supply answers through His Word, Christian literature, church sermons, and other Christians. His resources are unlimited, His love unfathomable. However, if the doubt aimed toward God is accusatory or tainted with unbelief, God will not respond. Faith involves submission, humility, and an open mind of belief in our Lord alone. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).


God is a friend of believers, and He desires that we communicate with Him in that capacity. Are your prayers as natural with Jesus as conversation with an earthly friend? Our relationship with our Lord must be forthright and sincere, with our hearts consistently abiding in Him, searching God’s guidance and wisdom, absolutely convinced He will respond. “Ask boldly, believing without a second thought. People who ‘worry their prayers’ are like wind-tossed, whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open” (James 1:6-8, The Msg.). The nautical comparison conjures images of believers tossed by waves of doubt.

Jewish rulers of the synagogue clamored for increasingly more proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Daily they witnessed His miracles of teaching and healing, but their doubt and suspicion only multiplied. Jesus refused to perform miracles on demand. He was all too familiar with hardened hearts, those unwilling to believe despite the evidence that convinces a receptive, pliable spirit.

Through the centuries since Thomas lived, he has been encumbered with an unmerited moniker as if he were the only doubter in history. Incredibly, there is an entry in our contemporary dictionaries for “doubting Thomas”, defined as an habitually doubtful person. Nowhere in God’s Word is Thomas identified as a repetitive doubter, aside from the single incident when Thomas sought confirmation that Jesus was the risen Lord, the same evidence afforded the other disciples a week earlier. Jesus didn’t rebuke His disciple, but patiently, lovingly offered Thomas the proof he was seeking.

Every life is more significant than to reduce the sum of it to one experience. Society has judged Thomas harshly and permanently. It causes me to wonder the reason Thomas was specifically singled out as a doubter when the doubt and unbelief of other characters in God’s Word had far-reaching consequences. Would any of us appreciate having our lives defined by one lapse of faith? God’s lack of spiritual censure assures us of His mercy and understanding.

Zachariah and Elizabeth were childless, a major disappointment in their lives, particularly disgraceful for a Hebrew woman. One day while performing his priestly duties at the temple, an angel appeared to Zachariah. “‘Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord’” (Luke 1:13, 15a). Zachariah asked the angel, “‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’” (v.18)? Even though the angel had been sent from God in heaven and had promised the most fabulous gift of their lifetime, Zachariah wanted more proof. His doubt overshadowed his belief. Thus, the angel struck Zachariah mute “‘because you did not believe my words which will become true at their appointed time’” (v.20). The future father was temporarily punished for his lack of convictions. Unbelief is blind and dumb, as illustrated by Zachariah’s lack of verbal communication until the day of John’s birth. Zachariah, a priest, who prayed at the altar of God for a child, questioned whether God’s answer was reliable.

Do we ever pray as Zachariah did, asking God for something specific, but not fully believing our request will be answered? Let us reflect on the belief in our hearts before we pray, to ascertain if we possess tenacious faith anchored in Jesus.

Following Jesus’ ascension, Thomas, like the other disciples, took the Good News of the Gospel into the known world of their time. With courage and convictions, Thomas planted churches in India, establishing Christianity that still survives today in a predominantly Muslim country, and there he was martyred. We owe a great deal to Thomas, who teaches believers by example that Jesus is not threatened by our sincere questions. He welcomes honest, searching inquiries that fuel our daily journey, as we reach out to touch and to be touched by Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. Then we know with certainty what Jesus assured. “‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’” (Isaiah 49:16).


All Bible references are taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.

Patience

Patience

By Pat Knight

The Bible book of Job opens with a snapshot of its namesake: In the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was also “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3), a respected elder in his community, admired for his civic leadership and justice.

God granted Satan permission to test His servant Job, to prove Job’s righteousness and faithfulness. Within a day Job lost his enormous wealth in livestock, his house, and his servants. Worst of all, his ten children were killed in an accident. Soon Job contracted a disease, with “sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7).

Job’s entire body was wracked with gnawing pain day and night (Job 30:17). The infection caused festering sores (v. 7:5), scabs that peeled and turned black (vv. 30:28, 30), disfigurement with a repulsive appearance (vv. 2:12; 19:19), nightmares (v. 7:14), bad breath with loss of teeth (vv. 19:17, 20), physical emaciation (vv. 17:7; 19:20), and fever (v. 30:30), which may have caused delirium and hallucinations   (v. 7:14).

Job’s wife helplessly observed her husband deteriorating before her eyes, scraping his sores with broken pottery glass. Job struggled with thoughts of shame, insignificance, and injustice. He cried out to God, but heard only silence. Suspecting Job would soon die, and aware of the law stipulating death for blaspheming the Name of the Lord (Leviticus 24:15), Mrs. Job suggested a way to hasten her husband’s death: “‘Curse God and die’” (Job 2:9b). Job refused, saying, “‘Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).Though stretched to the limits of human endurance, Job refused to give up. He clung to God with all his might.

Three friends traveled to comfort Job. Ideally, they should have provided Job with encouragement, an oasis in the desert of his suffering. But they offered only a mirage, another disappointment for Job to reconcile. He received callous arguments from his friends, who branded him a hypocrite. Job desired friendship, dependable counsel, and spiritual guidance, costing his friends nothing, but which would have proved most valuable to a wretched man. Job responded, “‘One should be kind to a fainting friend but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty’” (Job 6:14, NLT).

“The patience of Job” is a phrase commonly but inaccurately used. The book of Job omits such a characterization. Job claimed the right to bellow and complain that he was wounded and forgotten by God. He rued the day he was born (v. 3:11). He accused God of excessive criticism (v. 7:20). Job was adamant that he had done nothing wrong to invoke God’s discipline or punishment. The more he argued, the more arrogance he acquired. He came perilously close to implicating God of wrongdoing. Job complained of God’s apparent injustice and insensitivity, accusing God of abusing His power, attacking him, and disregarding his pleas for mercy. “‘You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me’” (Job 30:21, NLT).

The believer’s spiritual gift of patience (Galatians 5:22) includes more than just waiting. It implies the calm bearing of trials without complaining. Inherent in patience is submissive relaxation in the comforting, assuring arms of Jesus. Serenity and praise are implicit factors, trusting the plans of God without necessarily knowing His purposes. At its core, patience requires humility and submission to the will of God. “If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:25).

“When we let circumstances come between us and God, God is shut out, and as a result of that we lose the sense of His presence. We get to the place where there is worry and distress instead of peace in our souls, and we do not feel His fatherly hand upon us. We become fretful and impatient and irritable and fault-finding. We get far away from God and out of communication with Him. We do not see the hand of God in all circumstances. All the while He wants to bring us back to Himself in brokenness of heart and humbleness of mind” (J. Vernon McGee).

If we intend to exhibit the fine art of patience during adversity, Job is not the model to emulate. Jesus Christ is our divine example. During His thirty-three years on earth, Christ encountered the gamut of human experiences. Both in His purpose and in His performance, Jesus patiently carried out the plan established for Him in the heavenly realms. He showed patience toward the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders whose design it was to taunt and entrap Him. Jesus never sinned. He never lost His temper unjustly. He never dishonored His Father in heaven or people on earth. Jesus was humble and patient with men and submissive to His heavenly Father. “And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved” (2 Peter 3:15, NLT).

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Tempter offered Jesus the crown without the cross. Jesus patiently and obediently committed Himself to God, praying, “‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ And in anguish, He prayed more earnestly and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42-44).

Jesus is the perfect, patient Son of God, the only Person qualified to suffer in our place. The ideal model of patience in weakness is the cross of Christ! Now He strengthens us by the power of His resurrection.

Though there is no mention of Job’s patience in the Old Testament, later Job is remembered. “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord faithfully brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). Job was not patient, but he exhibited steadfast trust. Job persevered because he had already established a devout personal relationship with God prior to his losses. Satan was sure Job would capitulate in defeat under the heavy weight of loss and suffering, but he didn’t count on his victim’s enduring faith. Job’s belief of a future reward in heaven sustained him during the long months of tribulations. “‘Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One’” (Job 6:10).

Our responsibility is to “Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying” (Romans 12:12b). It pleases Jesus’ to know that His followers inherit His divine attributes. Like Job, we must learn patience, the ability to respond with quiet, uncompromising endurance under stress.

Let us implement the gift of patience that characterizes Christ,
leaning hard on the Rock, resting in His divine help and power.
Then God will be glorified by your patient, adoring acts of faith.

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

By Pat Knight

I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys.

─Song of Solomon 2:1

Cultivated extensively for the past five thousand years in the Middle East, rose petals have been used for confetti in ancient celebrations, for medicinal purposes, and as a source of perfume. During the 17th century, royalty used both the rose and rosewater as legal tender, for barter, and for payments. Designated as a tangible expression of love in our current age, what conveys affection or adoration more obviously than a bouquet of roses? Though long ago a cherished flower of nobility, roses of all varieties are now easily grown by novice gardeners.

Roses are designed and proliferated throughout the world by our Lord, the Master Creator. There are no color clashes in God’s world: red, orange, purple, fuchsia, and yellow exist in an array of hues, blooming side-by-side in natural harmony, illustrating the cooperative manner in which our Creator intends for people of all nationalities and ethnicities to function. The Lord Jesus claimed, I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2:1), in whom the preeminence of God is revealed.

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus came to earth from the presence of God in heaven, the perfect Son, striking in beauty, lovely to gaze upon, to exalt, and to emulate. He lavishes pleasure through our senses, intensifies our praise, and magnifies our worship of the Godhead. Jesus is splendid and majestic! When He identifies with the rose of Sharon, He is portrayed as a beautiful, stately rose thriving in the fertile valley of Sharon in Palestine, where the elegant flower grows in profusion.

Jesus, the personified Rose of Sharon radiates unconditional love, fragrance, and delight. He occupies our minds as we seek Him, fills our hearts as we absorb His love, and permeates our speech as we exhale ministering words of devotion to him. “Taste and feel that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).Both the Father and the Son engage our senses, that we may fully experience their glowing splendor. We are reflectors of sovereign light, bearing the image and beauty of God as we derive our very life from Him. Similar to the way a delicate bud opens from the center to reveal glamorous layers of rose petals, our hearts display the nuclei of our spiritual lives, where Jesus’ love multiplies.

Physical beauty is rarely emphasized by our Lord. Though man’s priorities are often determined by personal beauty, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is far more interested in the integrity of man’s inner characteristics. “It {your beauty} should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4).

Let us behold Christ’s beauty, purity, and holiness as He occupies our thoughts and affirms our priorities. In a world infiltrated with thorns of hurt and danger, the Rose of Sharon is poised to deluge believers with comfort and compassion.

Witnessing the unfolding of God’s glory in the Son must have been an ecstatic experience for those who glimpsed His presence on earth. It is no small wonder that masses were attracted to the blessed one of God. He was breath-taking, set apart from all humanity. We still marvel with delight at His glory and righteousness.

The believer responds to Christ on a spiritual level. Hearts are transformed by the Savior’s love and saving grace. Like the predictable maturing of a rose from bud to blossom, the believer’s faith unfolds with beauty, gentleness, and joy, one petal of obedience at a time. Blossoming in love is accomplished by Christ’s residence in the believer’s heart. Roses need abundant sunlight to bloom, just as Christians crave the abiding presence of Jesus’ splendor and majesty to flourish. As we diligently remain united with Christ through faith, we reflect His beauty in our lives. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

A rosebud is encased in a snug package, gently swaddled by a few select outer leaves. As the flower matures, the leaves relax, permitting each subsequent layer to expand to full capacity. Our hearts jubilantly respond like a newly exposed rose blossom, revealing a delightful uniqueness, radiantly shining with the light of Jesus, stunning the world with the intense fragrance of Jesus’ divine love.

Just as the flower bud’s true potential is revealed when its exterior sheath peels away to unveil a shining rose within, Christ living in our hearts promises a unique positional status as a child of the King and heirs with the Son of God for all eternity!

In each of His marvelous designs, our Creator is visible. Ponder the unique shapes and intricate details God invests in every rose. God isn’t reluctant to spend extravagant creativity on each flower, utilizing variegated colors and velvety softness to enhance a blossom. Then He lavishes specific plants with His proprietary fragrance, poured with impunity from His heavenly lab to gardens on earth.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly beloved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). As a renowned rose, Jesus is the object of extreme beauty and humility. Stooping to earth as the Son of man, Jesus espoused characteristics of meekness and gentleness. Living in any area beneath the glory of heaven required that Christ adopt a humble personality to define His earthly ministry.

Christians exude the beauty of Jesus in unrivaled form and fragrance. A joyful attitude and a forgiving spirit, combined with acts of kindness, places followers of Christ in unparalleled positions to bountifully disseminate the soothing, aromatic scent of the Rose of Sharon.

Love Song

We were treated to a spontaneous mini-concert by our two-year-old grandson, whose full repertoire consisted of “Jesus Loves Me.” He belted out the chorus with vigor and quality. If one of us attempted to sing along, he abruptly fell silent until we ceased. He indicated in non-verbal terms that he intended to perform solo.Then he resumed the lyrics, never missing a word.

The words of the song are simple, yet profound; personal, yet universal; gentle, yet powerful. Little did our grandson appreciate the joy and heart-warming belief he conveyed in his memorized lyrics, booming out the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus heard the succinct but sincere words of “Jesus Loves Me” and acknowledged the love the words generated in our grandson’s heart. If there is no doubt in a toddler’s mind regarding the unconditional love of God, why would any of us harbor skepticism?

Throughout God’s Word we are presented with substantial evidence of God’s love: “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), explains the source of love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), condenses one of the most powerful messages in the Bible.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), states the purpose of God’s love. His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1b, NLT), describes the eternal nature of our Lord’s love.

“One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!’ Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-14; 16, NLT).

If Jesus had appeared, our grandson would have eagerly run into His open arms. Children of all ages readily believe God. They do not require long explanations; just a statement of the love of God from trustworthy adults is convincing enough for them. Children love Jesus because Jesus first loved them. God simplifies, removing cobwebs and confusion. Young children readily understand simple, direct explanations and commands, for their faith has not yet been sullied by deceptions of the world. God instructs us to mirror the faith of children who possess uncomplicated, unpretentious faith.

There was another young boy who expressed his love in a tangible manner. One day when Jesus withdrew by boat to a solitary place to pray, multitudes of people who anticipated his next stop walked ahead of Him on land, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). All through the day, Jesus ministered to the people, offering healing to body and soul. As evening approached, the disciples suggested their Master send the crowds away. Instead, Jesus commanded His disciples to feed the multitudes in the remote countryside. When Jesus’ disciples returned to Him after checking the crowd for any remnants of food, they had found only five barley loaves of bread and two fish, donated by a boy in the listening throng.

We have no knowledge of the boy whose lunch was used in Jesus’ miracle to feed thousands of hungry, attentive followers. Had he been sent from his home that morning to accomplish an errand, but intrigued by the crowds, he fell into the rank and file of those pursuing Jesus? When the disciples circulated among the people asking for any available food, the boy offered his own lunch. In a time when many people went hungry, the gift of food for Jesus’ use displayed phenomenal generosity.

The little boy who contributed his lunch of bread and fish, gave it up willingly. The loaves were small, like individual dinner rolls. The fish were also diminutive, perhaps a smoked or a pickled variety, like herring, a delicacy for lunch.

God had already planned to use the boy’s meal to feed the entire multitude of five thousand men plus women and children, who would minimally total about 15,000 people. Jesus’ disciple, Andrew, took the boy’s small lunch to Jesus. “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted’. So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten” (John 6:10-13).

If we allow God to use our availability and material possessions, as the little boy demonstrated, we may also be used as catalysts for a miracle. Imagine the thrill and amazement on the face of that boy who watched as Jesus multiplied his meager lunch to feed the masses. Fascinated by Jesus’ miracle, he then participated in the picnic created from his personal lunch donation. What a story he would tell his family when he finally arrived home later that day!

Jesus loves and respects boys and girls, and they know it. “‘I tell you the truth: anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’” (Luke 18:17); a severe warning, encouraging us to simplify our faith enough for a child to understand. Though Jesus’ disciples initially displayed doubt, they learned a new level of uncomplicated faith displayed by a child. Jesus commands all of us to emulate the frank openness of a child’s faith.

The miracles Jesus accomplished aroused anger and hatred among the Jewish rulers and teachers of the law. When they “saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matthew 21:15). When those same rulers asked Jesus if he could hear what the children were saying about him, Jesus replied, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’” (Matthew 21:16). Jesus acknowledged praise from children. They were His ardent supporters; they knew they were loved, professing their faith as they enthusiastically sang about their Savior in the temple courts.

Envision the children clasping hands, dancing around the courtyard in a circle, singing exuberant worship songs to Jesus. If you listen intently, there will arise above the crowd an angelic voice singing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. We are weak, but He is strong.” Suddenly Jesus’ attention will be focused compassionately on our grandson, the little boy with unsurpassed love for Christ, the one who treasures his adoration and praise.

Joy’s Grandeur

Joy’s Grandeur

By Pat Knight

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—
I, whom you have delivered.
My tongue will tell of your righteous acts”  (Psalm 71:23).

On a second missionary journey, Paul and Silas traveled to Philippi, a leading Roman city where Roman customs were observed and idols worshipped. In Philippi the missionaries were confronted by a demon-possessed slave girl who made her owners wealthy by fortune-telling.

Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ’In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:18). Realizing their lucrative business had evaporated right before their eyes, the girl’s owners seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the public square to the city magistrate, and claimed false charges against them. Mob involvement grew to a fever pitch. Soon the men were stripped, beaten, and thrown into the maximum security cell of the jail.

The men were flogged, a severe form of beating similar to what Christ endured prior to crucifixion. Against bare skin the Romans used a whip fashioned of several leather straps with lead and bone embedded at the ends. Flogging tore open wide gashes of skin. The Jews, by law, restricted the number of lashes to thirty-nine, but the Romans had no limitations. Victims of Roman flogging often didn’t survive the savage punishment.

Following their beating, the two men were led into an inner prison cell where their feet were placed in stocks, serving as added security and extra torture. Physically their bodies were beaten and bloody, but their jubilant hearts could not be broken. Their spirits soared. Paul and Silas knew that all power, joy, and victory reside in Christ alone. They were confident they were serving a faithful God who would intervene on their behalf.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26).

Because their lives were saturated with joy, the missionaries were able to sing spontaneous, resounding praises to God. How many of us, in similar circumstances, find songs of joy on our lips?

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you—I, whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts” (Psalm 71:23).The men sang while suffering, for they had vision and trust beyond their current situation. Their witness in song that night communicated far more to the other prisoners than any words they could have preached. If joy were dependent on circumstances, Paul and Silas would have cowered due to pain and injustice. But they were assured that God’s protection was sufficient.

In God’s Word, joy is a command, “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4), and a gift (Galatians 5:22), demonstrating that when God assigns a task to His children, He lavishes them with help and strength necessary to finish His work. “The trouble with too many of us is that we think God called us to be manufacturers when He really called us to be distributors. He alone has the resources to meet human needs; all we can do is receive His riches and share them with others” (Warren Wiersbe). Let us distribute God’s joy wherever He sends us, to whomever crosses our path.

God’s characteristics fill our hearts to overflowing. Any receptacle that overflows quickly spreads its contents into surrounding areas, seeping into cracks, permanently staining, leaking into remote spots to be discovered at a later time. Jesus’ joy is incapable of containment. It must multiply in the lives of believers, who carry it throughout the world.

Overwhelmed with gladness, our hearts cannot be restrained by a dam of negativity. Joy rolls along like a somersaulting downhill snowball, picking up peace, trust, and hope, wrapping them into a spectacular bundle of unmitigated worship. Trudging through uphill trails of adversity, layers of zeal, strength, and courage naturally melt, seeping onto the pathways of life, leaving behind evidence of an intimate relationship with Jesus our Savior. The dispersing love ministers to others, harvested by those who are desperate to know eternal peace and comfort.

Jesus provides inside-out rejoicing by filling our hearts with a deluge of enthusiasm. In addition, He clothes us with joy. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing praises and not be silent. Lord, my God, I will praise you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). Sackcloth, a symbol of mourning, is replaced by songs of exuberant praise. From the riches of heaven’s own wardrobe room, swishing, elegant robes of rejoicing define us externally as the light of Christ’s joy engulfs our hearts, offering supernatural encouragement. Jesus said, “If you obey my command, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remained in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-11).

Joy has the potential to leap boundaries. Those who know Jesus personally acknowledge the splendor of His majesty, initiating a reaction that can best be described as dynamic, triumphant joy forevermore. “My heart leaps for joy and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). When was the last time you spiritually leaped for joy, demonstrating the thrill of victory with eternal consequences?

When Paul and Silas rejoiced in prayer and song, they weren’t aware of the exceeding great plan God had devised: “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34). Joy is the consistent result of trusting in Jesus.

Joy divided is multiplied. “To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to divide it with” (Mark Twain). Joy is contagious. Let us be carriers, proliferating its impact throughout the world.

Great Expectations

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
and assurance about what we do not see.
—Hebrews 11:1

Great Expectations

By Pat Knight

As I gazed out the window at the bleak winter landscape, I detected a definite lack of color, a bland outlook with no life stirring. With barren expectancy, we prepare our hearts for desolation, reflected in our attitudes and conversation. Are we so mentally programmed with gloominess that even our anticipation of future events is dulled?

Comparing heart focus with environmental conditions is risky, thwarting inward hope and personal growth. It is easy to be affected by the lack of sunshine and warmth in winter. Let us not permit exterior influences to eclipse the radiance with which Jesus penetrates darkness by reflecting His light through our lives. Joy is quickly extinguished by despondency.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). After Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, conquered his disbelief at Christ’s post-resurrection appearance, Jesus taught the eleven disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have  not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). In today’s vernacular we would explain Jesus’ teaching as “blind faith.” In spite of our circumstances, our beliefs don’t change; they are locked securely inside our hearts. Faith in God is the consequence of trust; trust the outgrowth of belief.

If we constantly focus on the negative, our hearts will languish with despair. We’ve all been exposed to a curmudgeon who  projects a pessimistic approach so hopeless that black clouds spontaneously open, dispensing chilly water on a new idea. Cynics have an intimidating influence on positive thoughts, much like the austere environment in winter.

With whom do we communicate to enliven a joyful spirit? God is the Author and Creator of all things good. “Jesus answered, ‘No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:18). The good God constantly imparts to us is a reflection of His own divine character of purity and holiness.

After gazing outside at the monotonous winter panorama once again, rather than a change of scenery, I discovered the need for an attitude adjustment. God has the ability to change our perspective with His gifts of joy and peace. Man is unable to conjure up sovereign gifts independently with the power of positive thinking, as some assert. We must depend upon our Lord to supply us with His limitless gifts, always available to those who seek Him. “Take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:24,The Msg).

We are commanded to fellowship with God, the glorious, victorious Creator of life and peace, joy and light, grace and love. In the new year, let us establish enlightened priorities, recognizing the capacity to alter our lives forever by placing them in God’s care. “Submit yourself, then, to God. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7a-8).

Winter, with its unique season of dormancy and hibernation for many living things, is also a period of refreshment, preparing for regrowth; for a magnificent burst of beauty and fragrance that identifies the imminent season of spring. Let us not bear winter grudgingly, but joyfully use the time to develop attitudes pleasing to God. There is beauty during winter unseen at other times of year. Shadows on snow peek around trees, marching like toy soldiers as the sun manipulates the imaginary forms. Sunsets of magnificent proportions and beauty light up late afternoon skies with unequivocal displays of prismatic colors. The deep green of softwood branches and the silhouettes of stark hardwoods in the foreground of high, pristine snowbanks create fantastic visual delights. A full moon illuminates light blue blankets of snow when the dark draperies of night are pulled down upon the world.

What do you envision in the winter season of your life? The bleakness of financial, health, or employment woes, or the unprecedented power, protection, and provisions offered by God Himself? The new year holds unimaginable possibilities and victories. Seek an attitude that reflects Jesus’ submission, humility, and obedience toward His Father. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus could release His deepest hope to His heavenly Father, assured that even at such a late hour God could perform the impossible by cancelling His Son‘s crucifixion. Yet, Jesus believed that His Father’s perfect plan would be accomplished. Christ was convinced that His hope wasn’t misplaced by cross-your-fingers wishful thinking, but as confident expectations resting on God’s promises, free of worry and nail-biting. Jesus trusted in God’s sovereign ability to answer his prayer custom designed for His Son alone. He does the same for us.

Hope is like an restraining anchor at the bottom of the sea. The Christian anchor rises up into the heavenly realms, guaranteeing our personal security. We are sheltered by our sovereign refuge.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

It is essential for us to value God above all else in our lives. He freely extends joyful delight, anchoring hope and unconditional love. Ask God to transform your priorities. He will lavish you abundantly with the righteousness of Jesus. To live right before God (righteousness) is His ultimate goal for each believer. “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

Hope is expressed when we turn toward God with confident expectation during times of trial.

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). With inner tranquility, believers relinquish their worries to God and dwell on them no more. Then the victory of God is theirs to enjoy. The full dimension of God’s love and provisions are beyond our comprehension, motivating us to trust Him explicitly.

During one final peek outside, I focused on the glory of God’s creation. Just as the outside world perpetually changes, believers also experience consistent growth and renewal deep within their hearts. We learn patience and perseverance, but most marvelous of all is the imperceptible growth in hope, trust, and faith our Lord accomplishes by His power at work within us, transforming our lives. Expect the unexpected from an exceptional, extraordinary God!