Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict the wise men visiting the Christ-child. But I think the story is bigger than the way it’s presented. The wise men’s journey is also a paradigm for our spiritual journey.
Deep down, each of us longs to know what we’re here on earth to do—to have some sense of purpose and mission. Some people have a “life verse” from the Bible that gives them succinct focus. If you don’t have one of those, perhaps today’s passage is a good one to adopt.
After I finished speaking at a church one Sunday on how the cross shows that God can redeem our broken dreams and suffering, a guy came up to me wanting to talk. “I haven’t been to church in 26 years,” he said. “I’ve just been through a divorce and a business failure—I have lots of broken dreams. Just this week I said to a friend, ‘If there is a God, why doesn’t He step in to help?’ Then all week I had this feeling I should get to a church service. What you said tonight has really rocked me. It’s like I was meant to be here.”
My young nieces recently introduced me to a favorite TV show of theirs: The Dog Whisperer. In the series, an animal behaviorist named Cesar Millan gives advice to pet owners who have unruly dogs. We soon became hooked on the show.
God has told me why your skin cancer hasn’t been healed,” the woman said to my friend. Really? he thought. Having suffered through two failed operations to remove the cancer from his face, my friend was desperate for a reason why. “God has told me it’s one of three things,” she continued. One of three? my friend thought. Even God doesn’t know for sure? “It’s either a generational curse passed down from your parents . . . ” It’s my parent’s fault? “Or it’s a secret sin in your life . . .” Which one? (My friend can be cheeky.) “Or you lack the faith to be healed.”
Our lives began to fall apart when my daughter took her life,” the woman told me during a break in the conference we were both attending. “And then our second daughter spiraled into depression and started to ‘self-harm.’ After several months we discovered the reason why: While my husband and I were missionaries in Indonesia, two of our three children had been sexually abused at a mission-run school. We had given our lives to serve God. . . . Why didn’t He protect us?” I would hear similar stories at that conference—people who felt betrayed by God.
As any couple trying to have a child knows, every 28 days you’re looking for signs of success. For many couples, this expectation is met with disappointment for a few months until conception occurs. But for others, this monthly cycle of raised and dashed hopes can last for years. Proverbs 13:12 describes such an experience well: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
Some years ago, I had a sobering epiphany regarding my faith. After a decade of ministry, I realized that I didn’t really know God very well. Yes, I knew there was a God and that He was good and holy. I knew that Jesus had died for my sins. But did I really know God’s character well? His personality? Not very deeply.
The year 2013 had hardly begun before I felt as if I needed a vacation. A house renovation, a book launch, a trip to Ethiopia, and two speaking trips to Australia had left the year with little free space. In the midst of the busyness, I picked up a book one night and found this delightful paraphrase of Psalm 23:1-6 by Japanese poet Toki Miyashina: