Because of God’s love, we are never truly alone.

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”—Hebrews 13:5

Does having a friend nearby make pain more bearable? Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a fascinating study to answer that question. They wanted to see how the brain reacted to the prospect of pain, and whether it behaved differently if a person faced the threat of pain alone, holding a stranger’s hand, or holding the hand of a close friend.

Researchers ran the test on dozens of pairs, and found consistent results. When a person was alone or holding a stranger’s hand while anticipating a shock, the regions of the brain that process danger lit up. But when holding the hand of a trusted person, the brain relaxed. The comfort of a friend’s presence made the pain seem more bearable.

Jesus needed comfort as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what He was about to face: betrayal, arrest, and death. He asked His closest friends to stay and pray with Him, telling them that His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow” (Matt. 26:38). But Peter, James, and John kept falling asleep.

Jesus faced the agony of the garden without the comfort of a hand to hold. But because He bore that pain, we can be confident that God will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Jesus suffered so that we will never have to experience separation from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). His companionship makes anything we endure more bearable. —Amy Peterson

Jesus, thank You for bearing the pain and isolation of the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross for us. Thank You for giving us a way to live in communion with the Father.

Our worship is right when we are right with God.

Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.—John 12:3

Shortly before Jesus was crucified, a woman named Mary poured a bottle of expensive perfume on His feet. Then, in what may have been an even more daring act, she wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Not only did Mary sacrifice what may have been her life’s savings, she also sacrificed her reputation. In first-century Middle Eastern culture, respectable women never let down their hair in public. But true worship is not concerned about what others think of us (2 Sam. 6:21-22). To worship Jesus, Mary was willing to be thought of as immodest, perhaps even immoral.

Some of us may feel pressured to be perfect when we go to church so that people will think well of us. Metaphorically speaking, we work hard to make sure we have every hair in place. But a healthy church is a place where we can let down our hair and not hide our flaws behind a façade of perfection. In church, we should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong.

Worship doesn’t involve behaving as if nothing is wrong; it’s making sure everything is right—right with God and with one another. When our greatest fear is letting down our hair, perhaps our greatest sin is keeping it up. —Julie Ackerman Link

Search me, God, and know my heart. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23–24.

Even on the cross, Jesus forgave those who hurt Him.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.—Luke 23:34

When a friend betrayed me, I knew I would need to forgive her, but I wasn’t sure that I could. Her words pierced deeply inside me, and I felt stunned with pain and anger. Although we talked about it and I told her I forgave her, for a long time whenever I’d see her I felt tinges of hurt, so I knew I still clung to some resentment. One day, however, God answered my prayers and gave me the ability to let go completely. I was finally free.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith, with our Savior extending forgiveness even when He was dying on the cross. Jesus loved those who had nailed Him there, uttering a prayer asking His Father to forgive them. He didn’t hang on to bitterness or anger, but showed grace and love to those who had wronged Him.

This is a fitting time to consider before the Lord any people we might need to forgive as we follow Jesus’s example in extending His love to those who hurt us. When we ask God through His Spirit to help us forgive, He will come to our aid—even if we take what we think is a long time to forgive. When we do, we are freed from the prison of unforgiveness. —Amy Boucher Pye

Lord Jesus Christ, through Your grace and power as You dwell in me, help me to forgive, that Your love will set me free.

The most powerful testimony is a godly life.

“Look, in this town there is a man of God.”—1 Samuel 9:6

My wife, Carolyn, and I were walking in London and came across a road named Godliman Street. We were told that a man once lived there whose life was so saintly that his street became known as “that godly man’s street.” This reminded me of an Old Testament story.

Saul’s father sent his son and a servant to look for some donkeys that had wandered away. The young men searched for many days but couldn’t find the animals.

Saul was ready to give up and go home, but his servant pointed toward Ramah, the prophet Samuel’s village, and replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take” (1 Sam. 9:6).

Throughout his years and into old age, Samuel had sought friendship and fellowship with God, and his words were weighty with truth. People knew him to be a prophet of the Lord. So Saul and his servant “set out for the town where the man of God was” (v. 10).

Oh, that our lives would so reflect Jesus that we would leave a mark on our neighborhoods, and that the memory of our godliness would linger on! —David Roper

I’m not sure, Lord, how my neighbors would describe me. But I want to be close to You and to be a light in my corner of the world.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21

You shall have no other gods before me. . . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them.—Exodus 20:3, 5

As he awaited his baptism in Togo’s Mono River, Kossi stooped to pick up a worn wooden carving. His family had worshiped the object for generations. Now they watched as he tossed the grotesque figure into a fire prepared for the occasion. No longer would their choicest chickens be sacrificed to this god.

In the West, most Christians think of idols as metaphors for what they put in place of God. In Togo, West Africa, idols represent literal gods that must be appeased with sacrifice. Idol burning and baptism make a courageous statement about a new believer’s allegiance to the one true God.

As an eight-year-old, King Josiah came to power in an idol-worshiping, sex-obsessed culture. His father and grandfather had been two of the worst kings in all of Judah’s sordid history. Then the high priest discovered the book of the law. When the young king heard its words, he took them to heart (2 Kings 22:8-13). Josiah destroyed the pagan altars, burned the vile items dedicated to the goddess Asherah, and stopped the ritual prostitution (ch. 23). In place of these practices, he celebrated the Passover (23:21-23).

Whenever we look for answers apart from God—consciously or subconsciously—we pursue a false god. It would be wise to ask ourselves: What idols, literal or figurative, do we need to throw on the fire? —Tim Gustafson

Lord, forgive us for those things we turn to that show our hearts are not focused on You. Show us what we need to give up, and replace it with the presence of Your Holy Spirit.

When we accept Jesus’s invitation to follow Him, our whole life changes direction.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!—Isaiah 55:1

During a recent week, I received several invitations in the mail. Those inviting me to attend “free” seminars on retirement, real estate, and life insurance were immediately thrown away. But the invitation to a gathering honoring a longtime friend caused me to reply immediately, “Yes! I accept.” Invitation + Desire = Acceptance.

Isaiah 55:1 is one of the great invitations in the Bible. The Lord said to His people who were in difficult circumstances, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” This is God’s remarkable offer of inner nourishment, deep spiritual satisfaction, and everlasting life (vv. 2-3).

Jesus’s invitation is repeated in the last chapter of the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).

We often think of eternal life as beginning when we die. In reality, it begins when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

God’s invitation to find eternal life in Him is the greatest invitation of all! Invitation + Desire = Acceptance. —David McCasland

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your promise of mercy, pardon, and eternal life. I acknowledge my failures and receive Jesus as my Savior today.

Mistakes Were Made

They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!—Exodus 32:24

“Mistakes were made,” said the CEO as he discussed the illegal activity his company had been involved in. He looked regretful, yet he kept blame at arm’s length and couldn’t admit he had personally done anything wrong.

Some “mistakes” are just mistakes: driving in the wrong direction, forgetting to set a timer and burning dinner, miscalculating your checkbook balance. But then there are the deliberate deeds that go far beyond—God calls those sin. When God questioned Adam and Eve about why they had disobeyed Him, they quickly tried to shift the blame to another (Gen. 3:8-13). Aaron took no personal responsibility when the people built a golden calf to worship in the desert. He explained to Moses, “[The people] gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (Ex. 32:24).

He might as well have muttered, “Mistakes were made.”

Sometimes it seems easier to blame someone else rather than admitting our own failings. Equally dangerous is to try to minimize our sin by calling it “just a mistake” instead of acknowledging its true nature.

But when we take responsibility—acknowledging our sin and confessing it—the One who “is faithful and just . . . will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our God offers His children forgiveness and restoration. —Cindy Hess Kasper

The first step to receiving God’s forgiveness is to admit that we need it.

This is Gods word for me today

Real doubt searches for the light; unbelief is content with the darkness.

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.—John 20:25

We know him as Doubting Thomas (see John 20:24-29), but the label isn’t entirely fair. After all, how many of us would have believed that our executed leader had been resurrected? We might just as well call him “Courageous Thomas.” After all, Thomas displayed impressive courage as Jesus moved purposefully into the events leading to His death.

At the death of Lazarus, Jesus had said, “Let us go back to Judea” (John 11:7), prompting a protest from the disciples. “Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (v. 8). It was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16).

Thomas’s intentions proved nobler than his actions. Upon Jesus’s arrest, Thomas fled with the rest (Matt. 26:56), leaving Peter and John to accompany Christ to the courtyard of the high priest. Only John followed Jesus all the way to the cross.

Despite having witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:38-44), Thomas still could not bring himself to believe that the crucified Lord had conquered death. Not until Thomas the doubter—the human—saw the risen Lord, could he exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus’s response gave assurance to the doubter and immeasurable comfort to us: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). —Tim Gustafson

Father, teach us to act on what we do know about You and Your goodness, and trust You in faith for what we don’t know.

Fruits of the SPIRIT

It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming.

In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of the solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met.

For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.

I choose love…

No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness, I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I choose joy…

I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical… the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.

I choose peace…

I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I choose patience…

I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complaining that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clenching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

I choose kindness…

I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

I choose goodness…

I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

I choose faithfulness…

Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My loved ones will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their parent will not come home.

I choose gentleness…

Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I choose self-control…

I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Gal 5:1-22To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. Thank you Lord for this day that has passed help me to seek you more tomorrow if this is Thy will for my life.

We cannot change the past, but God is changing us for the future.

Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.—Nehemiah 2:17

When Edward Klee returned to Berlin after being away for many years, the city he remembered and loved was no longer there. It had changed dramatically, and so had he. Writing in Hemispheres magazine, Klee said, “Returning to a city you once loved tends to be a hit-or-miss proposition . . . . It can be a letdown.” Going back to the places of our past may produce a feeling of sorrow and loss. We are not the same person we were then, nor is the place that was so significant in our lives exactly as it was.

Nehemiah had been in exile from the land of Israel for many years when he learned of the desperate plight of his people and the devastation in the city of Jerusalem. He received permission from Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to return and rebuild the walls. After a night reconnaissance to examine the situation (Neh. 2:13-15), Nehemiah told the inhabitants of the city, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (v. 17).

Nehemiah did not return to reminisce but to rebuild. It’s a powerful lesson for us as we consider the damaged parts of our past that need repair. It is our faith in Christ and His power that enables us to look ahead, move forward, and rebuild. —David

Thank You, Lord, for the work You are doing in us and through us.