As a hospice nurse, my sister Beth cares for people at the end of their lives, ministering God’s grace as she tends to their bodily needs, shows care and empathy, and manages their pain.

In contrast, I couldn’t enter the nursing profession—for one thing, I don’t have Beth’s patience. Nor would Beth want to speak to groups of people about God’s love, like I enjoy doing.

We may be different, but we love each other. My sister is also my friend.

Probably the best-known sisters in the Bible also exemplify a loving friendship—Martha and Mary. Today they’ve been turned into types: “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” (Luke 10.) 

But as we read their three gospel accounts (also John 11 and 12), we understand that they are fully orbed characters—women who love and grieve and question and serve.

They support each other, and their friendship with Jesus transforms them. For instance, consider how Martha lovingly calls Mary to their friend Jesus after their brother dies, and how Jesus responds.

As background, Jesus delayed coming to the sisters after they sent word that their brother was sick. We know now that he did so to bring glory to God, demonstrating that he is the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43). But the sisters, as they wait for Jesus, feel betrayed and unseen by the One who loves them.

Forthright Martha, when she hears that Jesus has arrived outside the village, rushes to meet him. Through conversation he calls her out of her grief, affirming her statement of faith that he is the Messiah.

Martha then returns home to her grieving sister, who seems to have lost all hope. Drawing Mary aside from the other mourners, she gently shares that Jesus asks after her.

She’s deeply concerned for her, longing for her younger sister to enjoy the love that she’s received from Jesus.

Mary goes to him at once, throwing herself at his feet as she releases her deep sorrow over the death of her brother. And Jesus shares her grief in the shortest sentence in the Bible: “Jesus weeps” (John 11:35).

He then moves to the grave, where he raises Lazarus from the dead—an extreme act of love and restoration. In doing so, he fuels the anger of the religious leaders, who want him eliminated.

Jesus loves both the sisters and ministers to them differently in their grief. Just as he loves each of us individually, caring for us in the ways we need most.

I hope you can believe that Jesus will meet you where you are today, whatever your needs. Know that you can come to him with your most heart-wrenching statements, as the sisters did: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

You can dialog with him as Martha did (John 11:21–27). You can shower him with love like Mary did when she anointed him with pure nard (John 12:3).

In all the moments of your day, Jesus wants to be your friend.

As you consider your friendship with God, you might also want to ponder any sibling relationships you have. How could you pray for your sister or brother—or a beloved cousin or friend?

Jesus, as he pours out his love on you, might also want to love someone through you today. Know that he delights in you and will never leave you.

He will be your best friend.

*For further reflection, listen to John 11.

  1. John 11

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Adapted from Transforming Love: How Friendship with Jesus Changes Us (Our Daily Bread Publishing, 2023).

God understands what it means to feel alone. Mark writes this about Jesus, “Then everyone deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:48–50).

It’s kind of hard to believe this verse. At first, I read it and wondered, Is Mark talking about Jesus?

The one who died for us—that Jesus?

But yes, it was Jesus who was grieving. He knew that he was about to go to the Cross.

And yet everyone deserted him.

Jesus experienced one of the deepest grief moments of his human life, and those closest to him deserted him. They abandoned him, left him, let him down, and didn’t come through.

Abandonment and desertion can crush the spirit and be traumatic experiences themselves. But this happened to Jesus; everyone deserted him.

My mom used to say, “If it happened to Jesus, we are no better than him. So it could happen to us.”

True, but thanks be to God, Jesus has already walked in all our shoes to truly understand what we feel, sense, and struggle through.

And the best part is that he knows how to help us, heal us, comfort us, and give us peace.

Further, in understanding how God understands our grief, the prophet Isaiah prophesied this of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

God, in the bodily form of Jesus, bore our sorrow, our grief, and our pain on the Cross. Not that we wouldn’t experience them, but instead he would know how to comfort us. Knowing someone knows what you are going through provides a sense of comfort all by itself.

It comforts us when we meet someone with a similar shared experience. It excites us even. I become super excited when I find out someone is creative or loves art because I am a low-key art fan. I have been since I was single digits.

And it is the same with our grief. Think about it, how relieved would you become if you met someone who had experienced—even remotely—what you have or even slightly understood your grief? Wouldn’t it make you feel less alone?

I know it would make me feel better. Well, guess what? God knows fully what you are experiencing or have experienced in the past, and he understands.

In his humanity, Jesus even wept.

Lazarus, a dear friend of Jesus’s, was sick. Jesus heard this news, and instead of going to see him, he remained where he was for a few more days. And Lazarus died.

Before leaving for Bethany, Jesus was already aware of the fact that Lazarus had died. He told his disciples that Lazarus was instead sleeping, but he would go to wake him. When Jesus arrived, Martha confronted him, saying that if he had been there, her brother would not have died.

As described by John, Jesus was “deeply troubled” (John 11:33). Then the story goes on to say, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Jesus seems to embody the words of Paul, who wrote, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Jesus saw their grief, and he had compassion for them. He grieved with them.

In fact, when Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist, he also grieved. John was Jesus’s cousin. We first hear of this relationship when Jesus’s mother, Mary, went to see her cousin Elizabeth. They were both pregnant. There was already a kindred connection between Jesus and John while they were still in their mothers’ wombs.

Then this same John later prepares the way for Jesus. In the end, John becomes a martyr in the name of Jesus.

So, when Jesus hears about the death of John the Baptist, Matthew wrote, he “left in a boat to a remote area to be alone” (Matthew 14:13).

Jesus took time to grieve and honor John the Baptist.

I think as believers, we often forget this. Maybe we think about how strong and powerful God is; we think about how nothing moves God or hurts God.

I believe we forget how God became flesh and felt every single thing that happened to him. When people hear of your loss and immediately say, “I can’t imagine.” know that Jesus can imagine and knows your pain.

In the same way that people would become much more thoughtful and compassionate by trying to put themselves where you are, if we were to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes (I know, big shoes to fill), we would have such a better perspective.

A better view. A lens of what it may have felt like while Jesus was praying in the garden. We would have a better understanding of the loving way Jesus understands us. Just as Jesus grieved, he understands that all people grieve, and he understands your grief. As he felt alone, he understands how you feel alone. He knew and he knows.

He knew one day you and I would grieve, and so God made a way for us to come to him for comfort and to obtain peace, simply through the name of Jesus.

So, no matter where you find yourself right now in your grief journey, God is asking, “Can you just sit with me?”

For further reflection, listen to Mark 14.

  1. Mark 14

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*Adapted from Can You Just Sit with Me? by Natasha Smith. ©2023 by Natasha Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.

My husband, Steve, had been a daily source of joy for me for more than 50 years.

Daily, he made me coffee, shared that he loved me, praised my cooking, told me I was beautiful, assured me that I could do anything God gave me to do, and always believed in me.

Such a source of joy!

Six months ago, Steve left me. It was not his choice, but God’s. Complications from a cancer treatment ended his earthly life, but he joyfully moved to his new heavenly life.

I miss him terribly, but how can I not rejoice that he is with Jesus and free from the growing troubles his body was facing?

Did I say rejoice? Indeed. As great a loss as this has been for me, my children, and grandchildren, and as often as tears come, I can still rejoice.

And that’s one reason why I believe God can give us joy—abundant joy—even as we navigate the hard journey of loving a prodigal and other difficult challenges.

What gives you joy? For most of us, joy and happiness are synonyms.

The things that make us happy often provide joy in our lives.

What often brings us joy are the loving relationships we have: family, a spouse, children, grandchildren, neighbors, church friends, co-workers. The people in our lives can be the happiest parts of our lives.

Other sources of happiness might be a sense of purpose, meaningful work, a nice home, good health, fun and refreshing activities.

And even when your team wins the championship.

But then there are realities that seem to steal our joy away: loss of a job, financial challenges, a scary diagnosis, betrayal by friends, and interpersonal conflicts.

And—the pain and challenge of a prodigal, of a loved one making destructive life choices or causing chaos for the family or rejecting a relationship with you.

Our God tells us we can have joy in all those bad events I just mentioned, even when my husband dies or your loved one breaks your heart.

Consider it Joy

My theme verse is James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

James calls us to make a choice—to consider, that is, to acknowledge, recognize, and regard the trials of our lives as pure joy.

Seriously? Pure joy? Not just grudging joy?

So James goes on to remind us of gifts we receive from those trials: “…because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).

Most likely, perseverance hasn’t been on your list of desired gifts. Though, we must admit, it helps us get through hard times. I think perseverance has been one of my most important gifts.

Just look at the result of growing in perseverance: to be mature and complete, lacking nothing! We have all we need.

Ask the Questions

Yet, even as God calls us to perseverance—and joy on a hard journey—he also invites us to be honest with him, to express our fears and feelings, to ask challenging questions, to lament.

What is lament? A lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, pain, or confusion. Lament could be the chief way Christians process grief in God’s presence.

Almost a third of the Psalms and the entire book of Lamentations are concerned with lament.

Like he does every other emotion, God wants to hear about our pain. God wants us to lament.

Listen to these words from Psalm 42:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.”

As you can see, God welcomes our praise, but also our pain. He receives our gratitude, and also our questions.

Sometimes God Answers Questions

After Steve’s death, I had a lot of questions. Answers included scriptural promises and reminders, and also “trust Me” and “wait” and “persevere.”

But God was also kind to give me almost audible answers to some of my questions. These two have been the most important and helpful:

“How will I live without him?”

God’s response, repeatedly: “I will be with you.”

“Why did he have to leave now?”

This response has been an ongoing source of joy for me: “I wanted to be kind to him.”

How can I argue with that?

God calls us to consider it pure joy when the journey is hard, and as we do, we will find valuable life-giving gifts. But he also invites us to tell him how hard it is, how much it hurts, how confused we are, and to ask our deep and honest questions.

And in the process, he will give us joy!

*For further reflection today, listen to James 1 and Psalm 42.

  1. James 1
  2. Psalm 42

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~This is the first of four devotional studies on “Joy in the Hard Journey.”

***Please enjoy a meaningful and insighfut interview with Judy Douglass here!
***

Several years ago, my husband and I were traveling quite a bit for work. On our flights, I loved to gaze out of the window to see what the world looked like from my viewpoint.

Everything looked so tiny.

A car was the size of an ant, roads looked like pieces of thread, and lights looked like small specks of glitter sparkling on the ground. Yet sitting right there in the airplane, my soda can appeared larger than everything I was seeing outside the window because of my proximity and perspective.

Since I was physically closer to my soda, it appeared larger than a semitruck thousands of feet below me. Obviously I know a soda can is much smaller than a semi, but in that moment, my eyes told a different story.

Similarly, when we become so fixated on our problems, they can seem bigger than anything else.

It’s as though we have tunnel vision and can’t see anything other than what’s directly in front of our faces.

But what would it look like to change our viewpoint and be so close to God that He’s larger and greater than anything else in our lives?

Let’s take a quick timeout. Instead of focusing on the problem for a second, let’s pull ourselves back to see the size of the difference between our problems and our God.

Ask yourself this question:

Has my God solved bigger problems than this before?

Then say this to yourself:

And since that’s the case, I know he can help me too.

When you face problems in your life that seem so big, it’s time to go to him. Keep trusting him, stay close to him, and he will see you through it.

*For further reflection, listen to Colossians 3 today.

  1. Colossians 3

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To listen to our lovely interview with Brittany, click here!

Excerpted from There’s Beauty in Your Brokenness: 90 Devotions to Surrender Striving, Live Unburdened, and Find Your Worth in Christ by Brittany Maher and Cassandra Speer. Copyright © 2023, Brittany Maher and Cassandra Speer. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. harpercollinschristian.com.

When we ask, “What if the worst happens?” we can trust God.

He has already been to tomorrow and knows exactly what we need.

It doesn’t mean that the worst won’t happen because, honestly, our worst fears could materialize.

No one is free from tragedy or pain, but no matter what happens, God will be there. He will be with you, and he will never leave you.

So, what if the worst happens? In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into the fire, because they would not worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or worship the golden statue he had erected.

Those three young men faced the fire without fear, trusting that God would be with them.

They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us…But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

They were satisfied knowing that even if the worst happened, God would take care of them.

Replacing “what if” with “even if” is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make.

We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God.

We see that even if the worst happens, God will carry us.

He will still be good.

He will never leave us.

And He will supply all our needs.

Adapted from the Bible study, Desperate for Hope: Questions We Ask God in Suffering Loss and Longing.

*For deeper reflection, listen to Daniel 3.

  1. Daniel 3

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To enjoy our her.BIBLE interview with Vaneetha, click here!

The song “New Wine” begins

“In the crushing…In the pressing…You are making new wine.”

My early elementary report cards showed “outstanding” rankings, except for one “needs improvement” blot on my second-grade report card. The category described how I “handle disappointment.” Many were my youthful tears—whether shed behind a textbook, on the sidelines of lacrosse, or upon my bed. From my early days, I did not handle disappointment well.

Jesus talked about the need for “new wineskins” with new wines. (Matthew 9:17) The old wineskins would no longer suffice because the new wine would bust them wide open.

In the same way, as an adult, I needed to learn to let go of what I thought my life was supposed to be—the old wineskins—and embrace the reality of entirely new wineskins and the new wines they would hold.

Crushing and pressing are involved in making new wine. On the heels of two very crushing experiences, I faced a continual need to surrender in order to fully produce this new wine, and it all felt so disappointing.

Disappointment never crushed me more than when we had to leave our life in Hungary after I experienced my first mental health crisis.

However, amid all the horrible lies I heard during my manic episode in Orlando, God whispered more fervently, “Endure, beloved, endure.”

I didn’t know what this message meant except that I needed to hold tightly and remember that God was real despite all the lies.

All I could do was seek to hang on to the overarching truth of Christ’s redemption.Christ’s remarkable story would win in my life and in all things.

Sometimes, dear reader, this is all we can do.

With something like mental illness, when our minds are sponges for deception, we have to trust the greater truth of God. He is present beyond every crushing experience, making new wine for us and within us. And not just any wine, but full-bodied, rich, exquisite wine that will one day be served at the great feast of God in the new heaven and new Earth.

As we walk this long road home, there may be many times God calls us to endure. Every one of our beliefs may be tested, but our deepest truths can come to life in this pressing time.

We are made for God, and he will have us forever, basking in his love’s beauty and heavens’ fullness. Moreover, this new wine he makes of us will bear the stunning story of his beauty replacing the ashes of our sorrow.

*For further reflection, listen to Matthew 9.

  1. Matthew 9

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Adapted from A Million Skies: Secure in God’s Strength When Your Mind Can’t Rest © Abigail Alleman, 2022.

I’m a recovering perfectionist. I manage my household schedule, coordinate family gatherings, and bring friends together for meaningful fellowship.

For someone who enjoys having a well-defined roadmap, the disappointments of life quickly remind me that I am not in control.

Life rarely goes as planned, and I cling to God’s Word for wisdom in navigating the uncertainties in life.

God’s plans are the best for us and steer us in the right direction.

So what do we do when our best-laid plans become useless?

We can surrender to God’s will and trust in the certainty of God’s Word. Even when nothing goes as planned, the Bible provides numerous promises when we feel uncertain:

  • For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
  • “he Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8).
  • For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ (Hebrews 13:5).
  • When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).

As we move forward, let us continue to hold tightly to the restorative power of God’s Word. 

When our thoughtful plans break down, let us look to God’s Word for the reminder that God is with and for us.

While we may not know all the details of God’s plans, we can know that He will never lead us astray.

*For deeper reflection, listen to Isaiah 43 today.

  1. Isaiah 43

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We’ve all had that friend—

  • who had a life-threatening disease,
  • who lost a family member or
  • who has experienced abuse.

Still, she can put her faith in Jesus and use her pain to help others.

Those people know there’s a sovereign God who gives us hope when all seems lost.

“I look up to the mountains–does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 121:1-2

How can we be women of hope?

It’s one thing to wish for a better life and another to be assured of a better life—because you’ve experienced the hope of God.

So, what does a hope-filled life look like? You can expect it to be hard in some moments. I know that’s not the best thing to read right after you’ve proclaimed hope. But I’m not here to sell you falsehoods.

When hard times come, you can also expect to endure them through a lens of hope. Remember the promise in Philippians 1:6, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Let’s say you suffer a financial loss. Instead of allowing financial stress to consume you, take this heavy burden to the feet of Jesus, to your safe community, and to your counselor. You will find hope for those parts of you, and you will pick up your head and pursue other means for your financial needs.

If you go through a hard breakup, it’s ok to spend some days curled up in a ball, crying—but you can’t stay there. (And you probably shouldn’t call your ex.)

Instead of begging to be taken back, producing more wounds of rejection and abandonment, you will take your heartache to the Lover of your soul, your Heavenly Father, who freely offers intimacy whenever you need it. You will know that while being lonely is a real feeling, you are never, ever alone.

When despair settles in, you will remember that the closer you are to God, the closer you are to joy. When any form of darkness comes into your life, the same God who brought you out of you troubles will do it again.

He can handle your sorrow and is not afraid of your sadness.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

When you claim the promise of hope and allow God to strengthen your faith, you will be that woman people look at and say, “Wow, she’s got bruised knuckles and a hope she’s fought for. But, she’s fighting through all of it, with Jesus leading the way, and she ain’t giving up!”

Living in hope is not easy, but it’s so worth it.

*For further reflection, listen to Philippians 4.

  1. Philippians 4

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Please enjoy more of Toni’s heart in our interview with her by clicking here!

Adapted from Brave Enough to Be Broken by Toni Collier Copyright © 2022 by Toni Collier. Used by permission of Nelson Books.

Living in downtown Chicago for the past ten years has given me an ongoing noisy soundtrack of trains, buses, sirens, and the clamoring of the city.

I love any chance I can to leave the concrete jungle and purposefully put myself in God’s creation. My ability to turn down the volume down on all the busy interruptions that bang around and bully my mind moves those worries into their proper place.

On a recent trip to Colorado, I gazed at the vast expanse of trees perfectly placed on the snow-covered mountains. I noticed that each part of creation chose to play its inspired role.

Not a single ounce of God’s creation was stuck in a comparative glare with one another. I did not see a mountain, wondering if it stood taller and prouder than the next mountain.

Not a single bird looked worried about what it needed to get done that day. Yet, I wondered why I struggled and worried so much about my to-do list.

Jesus uses creation to call us back to his presence.

But, unfortunately, living with the volume up at all times eventually leads to anxiety. Learning to adjust the volume and turn it down creates clarity.

We all have limits. Your limits are designed to help you live at a healthy pace and practice peace. At first glance, they may seem like a barrier, but God sees them as blessings.

Unfortunately, when we refuse to live within our limits, we eventually find ourselves broken down and sapped of energy. Worry feeds on itself at an out-of-control pace.

As we own our limits, God supplies us with strength. Think through some of your personal limitations right now. Are you opposing them or owning them?

These are vital areas where we often turn the volume up. We try to answer our worries by doing more, running faster, and pushing a pace we can’t sustain.

You can turn down the volume at a rapid pace by slowing down your life.

Jesus uses the birds of the air and the flowers of the field as the authorities on worry because they are never in a hurry (Matthew 6:26).

I used to think the problem was that I just needed more time. But we all have the same amount of time that Jesus had in his life.

The solution is to slow down, because slowing is what settles the soul. Vincent de Paul says, “The one who hurries delays the things of God.”

Worry takes up residence in our minds. It pays the rent in lies such as “I am less than, more than, not enough, too much.” So turning down the volume on worry is the perfect way to evict it from your mind.

There is some noise in a city like Chicago that you cannot turn down, but you can choose how you quiet your soul. Peace is a much better resident.

*For further reflection, listen to John 14.

  1. John 14

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*Please enjoy our conversation with Jeanne here!

Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

“Well,” they replied, some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” (Matthew 16:13–14).

Jesus then asked one of the simplest yet most profound questions in Scripture: “Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

The twelve disciples had spent almost every waking moment with Jesus for a couple of years at that point. They had witnessed him heal people, perform countless miracles, and teach with authority in the presence of the Pharisees and Sadducees. If anyone should’ve known who Jesus was, it should have been them, right?

They saw his power with their own eyes and heard his words with their own ears.

And yet when Peter rightly responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being” (Matthew 16:16–17).

Here is why Jesus’s statement is so profound: The people who saw and heard Jesus identified him as John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah because they compared Jesus’s ministry and teaching to that of these men.They identified Jesus based on who he reminded them of, and we do something similar when we identify people based on who they remind us of.

We say our daughter is cheerful like Aunt Sally, or our boss is mean and gruff like our old volleyball coach. We tend to identify people based on our sensory experience—what we see, hear, touch, or smell—and how it reminds us of someone else. This is part of what makes Jesus’s question significant.

He wanted to share this truth: people’s experience of you is not who you are.

Just as Jesus wasn’t John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, you aren’t who other people say you are.

Jesus essentially said, “I am more than what you see me do. I am more than what you hear me say. I am more than what you feel when I’m around. I am who the Father says I am—and so are you.”

*For Further Reflection, listen to Matthew 16 today.

  1. Matthew 16

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Taken from KILLING COMPARISON by Nona Jones. Copyright © September 27, 2022 by Nona Jones. Used by permission of Zondervan.com.