Topic:Prompted to Pray
Bible in a Year:
I constantly remember you in my prayers.
2 Timothy 1:3
“Several years ago I was prompted to pray for you often, and I wonder why.”
That text message from an old friend came with a photo of a note she’d kept in her Bible: “Pray for James. Cover mind, thoughts, words.” Beside my name she’d recorded three separate years.
I looked at the years and caught my breath. I wrote back and asked what month she began to pray. She responded, “Sometime around July.”
That was the month I was preparing to leave home for extended study abroad. I would be facing an unfamiliar culture and language and have my faith challenged like never before. As I looked at the note, I realized I’d received the precious gift of generous prayer.
My friend’s kindness reminded me of another “prompting” to pray, Paul’s instruction to his young missionary friend Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1). The phrase “first of all” indicates highest priority. Our prayers matter, Paul explains, because God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” about Jesus (v. 4).
God moves through faithful prayer in countless ways to encourage others and draw them near to Himself. We may not know someone’s circumstances when they come to mind, but God does. And He’ll help that person as we pray!
Topic:Attitude of Gratitude
Bible in a Year:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
In my state in the US, the winters can be brutal, with sub-zero temperatures and never-ending snow. One bitterly cold day, as I shoveled snow for what seemed like the thousandth time, our postman paused in his rounds to ask how I was doing. I told him that I disliked winter and was weary of all the heavy snow. I then commented that his job must be pretty rough during these extreme weather conditions. He responded, “Yeah, but at least I have a job. A lot of people don’t. I’m thankful to be working.”
I have to admit that I felt quite convicted by his attitude of gratitude. How easily we can lose sight of everything we have to be thankful for when the circumstances of life become unpleasant.
Paul told the followers of Christ at Colossae, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Even in our times of genuine struggle and pain, we can know God’s peace and permit it to rule our hearts. And in that peace, we’ll find reminders of all that we’ve been given in Christ. In that, we can truly be thankful.
Topic:Just a Touch
Bible in a Year:
1 Timothy 4
Then he placed his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”
It was just a touch, but it made all the difference to Colin. As his small team was preparing to do charitable work in a region known for hostility to believers in Jesus, his stress level began to rise. When he shared his worries with a teammate, his friend stopped, placed his hand on his shoulder, and shared a few encouraging words with him. Colin now looks back on that brief touch as a turning point, a powerful reminder of the simple truth that God was with him.
John, the close friend and disciple of Jesus, had been banished to the desolate island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, when he heard “a loud voice like a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). That startling event was followed by a vision of the Lord Himself, and John “fell at his feet as though dead.” But in that frightening moment, he received comfort and courage. John wrote, “He placed his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last’” (v. 17).
God takes us out of our comfort zone to show us new things, to stretch us, to help us grow. But He also brings the courage and comfort to go through every situation. He won’t leave us alone in our trials. He has everything under control. He has us in His hands.
Topic:This Is Me
Bible in a Year:
1 Timothy 3
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
The powerful song “This Is Me” is an unforgettable show tune featured in The Greatest Showman, the smash movie musical loosely based on the life of P. T. Barnum and his traveling circus. The lyrics, sung by characters in the film who’d suffered verbal taunts and abuse for failing to conform to societal norms, describe words as destructive bullets and knives that leave scars.
The song’s popularity points to how many people bear the invisible, but real, wounds caused by weaponized words.
James understood the potential danger of our words to cause destructive and long-lasting harm, calling the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). By using this surprisingly strong comparison, James emphasized the urgent need for believers to recognize the immense power of their words. Even more, he highlighted the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and then injuring people who are made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10).
The song “This Is Me” similarly challenges the truth of verbal attacks by insisting that we’re all glorious—a truth the Bible affirms. The Bible establishes the unique dignity and beauty of each human being, not because of outward appearance or anything we have done, but because we are each beautifully designed by God—His unique masterpieces (Psalm 139:14). And our words to each other and about each other have the power to reinforce that reassuring reality.
Topic:Who Am I?
Bible in a Year:
“I am who I am.”
Dave enjoyed his job, but for a long time he’d sensed a pull toward something else. Now he was about to fulfill his dream and step into mission work. But strangely, he began to have serious doubts.
“I don’t deserve this,” he told a friend. “The mission board doesn’t know the real me. I’m not good enough.”
Dave has some pretty good company. Mention the name of Moses and we think of leadership, strength, and the Ten Commandments. We tend to forget that Moses fled to the desert after murdering a man. We lose sight of his forty years as a fugitive. We overlook his anger problem and his intense reluctance to say yes to God.
When God showed up with marching orders (Exodus 3:1–10), Moses played the I’m-not-good-enough card. He even got into a lengthy argument with God, asking Him: “Who am I?” (v. 11). Then God told Moses who He was: “I am who I am” (v. 14). It’s impossible for us to explain that mysterious name because our indescribable God is describing His eternal presence to Moses.
A sense of our own weaknesses is healthy. But if we use them as an excuse to keep God from using us, we insult Him. What we’re really saying is that God isn’t good enough.
The question isn’t Who am I? The question is Who is the I am?
Topic:Use Your Voice
Bible in a Year :
Psalms 126–128; 1 Corinthians 10:19–33
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
1 Corinthians 12:4
I was invited to meet a world-renowned pianist. Since I grew up immersed in music—playing the violin and piano, and primarily singing solos for church and other events—I was thrilled at the opportunity.
When I arrived to meet the pianist, I realized he spoke little English; and to my surprise he provided a cello for me to play—an instrument I’d never touched. He insisted that I play and he would accompany me. I screeched out a few notes, trying to mimic my violin training. Finally admitting that I was lost, we parted ways.
I awoke, realizing the scenario had been a dream. But since the musical background presented in my dream was true, in my mind lingered the words, Why didn’t you tell him you could sing?
God equips us to develop our natural talents and our spiritual gifts for others (1 Corinthians 12:7). Through prayerful reading of the Bible and the wise advice of others, we can better understand the spiritual gift (or gifts) that is uniquely ours. The apostle Paul reminds us that whatever our spiritual gift, we’re to take time to find it and use it, knowing that the Spirit distributes the gifts “just as he determines” (v. 11).
Let’s use the “voices” the Holy Spirit has given us to honor God and serve other believers in Jesus.
Topic:Surprised by Wisdom
Bible in a Year :
Psalm 119:1–88; 1 Corinthians 7:20–40
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
“It seems like the older I get, the wiser you become. Sometimes when I talk to my son I even hear your words coming out of my mouth!”
My daughter’s candor made me laugh. I felt the same way about my parents and frequently found myself using their words as I raised my kids. Once I became a dad, my perspective on my parents’ wisdom changed. What I once “wrote off” as foolishness turned out to be far wiser than I had thought—I just couldn’t see it at first.
The Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser” than the cleverest human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness” of the message of a suffering Savior to rescue “those who believe” (v. 21).
God always has ways of surprising us. Instead of the triumphant king the world would expect, the Son of God came as a suffering servant and died a humbling death by crucifixion—before He was raised in unsurpassable glory.
In God’s wisdom, humility is valued over pride and love shows its worth in undeserved mercy and kindness. Through the cross, our unconquerable Messiah became the ultimate victim—in order to “save completely” (Hebrews 7:25) all who place their faith in Him!
Topic:Our New Home
Bible in a Year :
Psalms 103–104; 1 Corinthians 2
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city.
As the first immigrant to the US to pass through Ellis Island in 1892, Annie Moore must have felt incredible excitement at the thought of a new home and a fresh start. Millions would pass through there afterward. Just a teenager, Annie had left behind a difficult life in Ireland to start a new one. Carrying only a little bag in her hand, she came with lots of dreams, hopes, and expectations of a land of opportunity.
How much more excitement and awe will God’s children experience when we see “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). We will enter what the book of Revelation calls “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem” (v. 2). The apostle John describes this amazing place with powerful imagery. There will be “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1). Water represents life and abundance, and its source will be the eternal God Himself. John says that “no longer will there be any curse” (v. 3). The beautiful, pure relationship God intended between Himself and humans will be fully restored.
How incredible to know that God, who loves His children and purchased us with the life of His Son, is preparing such an amazing new home—where He Himself will live with us and be our God (21:3).
Topic:The Illusion of Control
Bible in a Year :
Psalms 89–90; Romans 14
You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
Ellen Langer’s 1975 study titled The Illusion of Control examined the level of influence we exert over life’s events. She found that we overestimate our degree of control in most situations. The study also demonstrated how reality nearly always shatters our illusion.
Langer’s conclusions are supported by experiments carried out by others since the study was published. However, James identified the phenomenon long before she named it. In James 4, he wrote, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (vv. 13–14).
Then James provides a cure for the delusion, pointing to the One who’s in absolute control: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15). In these few verses, James summarized both a key failing of the human condition and its antidote.
May we understand that our fate doesn’t rest in our own hands. Because God holds all things in His capable hands, we can trust His plans!
Bible in a Year :
Psalms 81–83; Romans 11:19–36
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
In 2017, the opportunity to help people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in the US prompted a group of us to travel to Houston. Our goal was to encourage people who’d been impacted by the storm. In the process, our own faith was challenged and strengthened as we stood with them in their damaged church buildings and homes.
The radiant faith exhibited by a number of these people in the wake of Harvey is what we see expressed by Habakkuk at the end of his seventh-century bc prophecy. The prophet predicted that tough times were on the way (1:5–2:1); things would get worse before they got better. The end of the prophecy finds him pondering the potential of earthly losses and the word though makes a threefold appearance: “Though the fig tree does not bud . . . ; though the olive crop fails . . . ; though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls” (3:17).
How do we position ourselves in the face of unimaginable losses such as the loss of health or employment, the death of a loved one, or a devastating natural disaster? Habakkuk’s “Ode for Tough Times” calls us to confident faith and trust in God, who is the source of salvation (v. 18), strength, and stability (v. 19) for yesterday, today, and forever. In the end, those who trust Him will never be disappointed.