In one of the most powerful and poetic chapters of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul describes the sort of love Christians are meant to embody: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”1
Longsuffering heads the list, and I think that’s significant because to love freely and consistently in the other ways Paul names requires a readiness to go the distance. We can’t reserve our love for certain situations or special people, and we can’t withdraw it when people disappoint or fail. Longsuffering is both a prerequisite and the bottom line.
Of all the word pictures Jesus painted, I can't think of another that engenders the peace of spirit that comes from feeling secure in God's loving care more than this: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. If God so clothes the grass of the field, will He not much more clothe you?”1 Can you see those lilies now? Tall and straight, perfectly formed and laced with dew, each a polite distance from the next, they sway as one to the sweet strains of songbirds and a gentle breeze as it sweeps through an open meadow awash with morning sun. At least that’s how I would have had them grow, if God had asked me.
I was 20 when I first read the gospels. That was also when I began to form my own thoughts about God and Jesus. Until then my beliefs had been sketchy at best and based on things I'd heard others say. The truth was that I’d never given the subject any real thought.
As I read, most of it was so new that it made little sense. I didn’t understand it, but it drew me in a strange new direction. I couldn’t say I believed it, but I wanted to. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a world where miracles actually happen, where wrongs are challenged, the weak and downtrodden are defended, and love has the last word? Things Jesus said, like, “If you abide in My word … you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,”1 kept me going back for more. I read all four gospels and started over at Matthew.
The expression “Love me, love my dog” came to life when my wife and I got a puppy—a first for me. We adore Sophie and she adores us. Actually, she adores everyone. She is not only one of those hyperactive toy breeds, but also one that is famously sociable. She starts wagging her tail as soon as a new person enters her world, and within a second or two her tail is wagging the rest of her so hard that she nearly comes unglued. If the new person so much as acknowledges Sophie’s existence, she gets even more excited and eager to “bond.” This is when we find out who loves dogs and who doesn’t.
The New Year is more than just a marking of time—or at least it can be. Many people see it as an opportunity to make a new start in some area of their lives.
Perhaps it’s our new calendars with their fresh images or our new diaries and weekly planners with their unspoiled pages. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that some of the people closest to us and millions of others around the world are making New Year’s resolutions and setting their sights higher. We don’t want to be outdone or left behind. Call it what you will—a personal wake-up call, a jolt to our collective conscience, or peer pressure—it’s effective ... at least for a few days. We all know how that goes.
Can you imagine being given a Christmas gift and not opening it for 20 years? Well, that’s exactly what I did. Year after year I unwrapped all of my other gifts and enjoyed them for a few minutes or a few months before I lost interest or outgrew or wore out each one. I don’t know why I never got around to opening that one gift. When I was small, my other gifts all looked more fun, I suppose, and as I grew older, I thought I knew what was inside and wasn’t interested. Most years I didn’t even notice it.
When asked what it means to praise God, my four-year-old grandson Logan explained, “It’s when we tell God, ‘Good job!’” I chuckled when I heard that, but it got me thinking. Why are we told time and again in the Bible to praise God, to tell Him “Good job”? He deserves it, of course, because He certainly did a good job when He created us and our infinitely complex universe, and moment by moment He does a good job at holding it all together.
He deserves our praise and thanks for a job well done, that much is clear, but sometimes I wonder what He gets out of it. I’ve seen what praise can do for Logan or me or anyone else. I know how it builds us up, but does God really need that? He’s all-powerful and all-knowing. Surely He already knows how great He is. Why would He need to hear that from us?
Life is made up of choices, ranging from mundane to mind-boggling. What should I wear today? What do I want for breakfast? What career should I pursue? Should I marry this person? Big and small, our choices work together to order our days, define who we are, and largely determine our levels of happiness and fulfillment.
Ironically, it’s the little choices that often get more than their share of our time and attention, while the most fundamental choices, the ones that matter most and could make the biggest difference in the long term, get overlooked or put off. What do I want out of life? What kind of person do I want to be?
I wish you could meet three people who each made a big impression on me. If you could, you’d understand immediately what this issue of Activated is about.
The first was a busboy who cleared my table from his wheelchair with such outgoing charm that I wasn’t a bit surprised when the manager told me on my way out that he considered that busboy his most valuable employee. “More people come back for him than for the food,” the manager confided.
My friend Michael has a favorite saying for when God does something inexplicable in answer to prayer: It’s not odd, it’s God.
For some months, Michael and a few others of us have been working on a major new endeavor. One of the first things Michael and another partner did was map out the entire project. The plan looked terrific on paper—so simple, so straightforward, so sure. We soon found out, however, that God had a somewhat different plan and timetable. And part of His plan seems to be to teach us to depend more on Him as our all-wise CEO.