At the height of an African government’s struggle with a terrorist rebel group, the president turned to the church for help. As people began to pray, an army chaplain declared that the war wouldn’t be won in battle, but through prayer. Thus began “Operation Gideon.” A team of intercessors gathered for several weeks of prayer and fasting. In time, a systematic breakdown of the rebel group’s influence occurred.
I’ve been mentored by some wonderful leaders over the years. Their encouragement, challenges, criticism, and timely discipline have enabled me to grow and mature. From godly parents and inspirational teachers to leaders in church and the workplace, I’m immensely grateful for their wise counsel. It can be easy to criticize those in authority, but a wise friend once challenged me to prioritize learning from and valuing them.
Fear is not a Christian habit of mind,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson has remarked. Yet fear is one of the most powerful and consistent forces in human behavior. Even outward obedience can be driven more by fear than love. What does it even mean, we might wonder, to live without being motivated by fear?
In American football, the start of a play is usually hard-hitting as players strive to overpower their opponents. But at the close of a middle school game in 2016, the quarterback simply stood up and started casually walking toward his opponent’s goal line. The opposing team was tricked by his calm demeanor and let him walk for twenty yards before realizing what was going on, and by then it was too late. The quarterback scored and his team won the game—all because he started the play in a way that no one expected.
In March 2016, thirty-six-year-old Adam LaRoche, the first baseman for the Chicago White Sox professional baseball team in the US, resigned after he was told not to bring his fourteen-year-old son into the team’s clubhouse as often as had been his practice. LaRoche walked away from a $13-million contract. Simply put, he refused to place money or fame before family. He announced his retirement in a tweet that read, “Thank u Lord for the game of baseball and for giving me way more than I ever deserved! #FamilyFirst.”
One of my favorite lines in Donita K. Paul’s Realm Walkers book series is, “The called must call upon the caller.” I don’t usually pause to ponder wording in the middle of an action-packed book, but this line left me thinking about what it means to be called.
My dog has been trained to always come back to me the instant I call or whistle. It’s taken a lot of work to get this response. And now he consistently listens for me and responds immediately—no matter what distraction is vying for his attention. Since I can trust him, I’m able to take him off his leash and let him run around and explore the fields and woodlands. In short, because he’s been properly trained and can be trusted even when facing temptation, he can enjoy his freedom.
“Pastor accused of hurting man in a road rage incident,” read the headline. My first response was to think, As a believer in Jesus, why wasn’t the pastor more forgiving? Why didn’t he show self-control when provoked? Then the realization hit me that I’m equally capable of such behavior. There have been too many times when I’ve been behind the wheel and my daughter has had to remind me, “Chill, Dad, chill.”
A friend and I once did an eight-day hike from Lindisfarne Island to Durham in north England. We went to learn about the godly men and women who had brought Christianity to the region—people like Aidan, Cuthbert, and Bede. I also took the pilgrimage because I was searching for direction.
If you were given an extra day each week, how would you use it? To read books, volunteer with a charity, perhaps catch up on sleep? In truth, I’d probably spend that extra day working. While I enjoy what I do, I don’t think that’s the healthiest of confessions.
A woman was running in a half-marathon in Ontario, Canada. It was a warm-up for the Detroit Marathon, the race in which she hoped to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon. Somehow she missed the turn for the half-marathon and instead ran twenty-six miles—the complete marathon! Not only did she complete it, she posted the fastest time for a female runner and automatically qualified to run the Boston Marathon.
Looking quizzically at my phone, I smiled as I discerned the message my daughter had texted. It wasn’t the words; it was the emoji. How in the world had such a small graphic managed to perfectly capture my teenage daughter’s sigh of impatience, roll of her eyes, and slightly annoyed tone of voice when saying my name? But there it was—the exasperated emoji!
As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen on several occasions during a service: a mother hears a faint cry from beyond the sanctuary, gets up, walks toward the rear of the room, and immediately goes to the nursery where her child is being cared for. Without anyone telling her, she knew that it was her baby who cried out and she needed to go and relieve the childcare volunteer by providing care for her precious child. Studies have shown that mothers are especially attuned to the cries of their own children and can often identify their kid’s cries from those of other children with 100 percent accuracy!
Jesus told the story of a young man who asked his father for his future inheritance and then bolted. For a while, life was good. He indulged his desires. Booze. Women. Parties. Jesus said that this young man “wasted all of his money in wild living” (Luke 15:13). But when his wealth vanished, so did his friends. His story illustrates Proverbs 22:3: “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”
As I drove home, night had begun to settle with an added veil of heavy fog. When the fog suddenly lifted, I found myself off the road and headed toward a patch of trees. I quickly slammed on my brakes. The low-lying branches of a large pine tree scraped against the hood of my car like hands reaching out to warn me of the ominous trunks just beyond. The dense fog had changed my perception: I had mistaken someone’s back porch-light for the streetlight I knew to be near the curve of the road.