Day 1: Look at the Birds of the Air
Our day may have started with anxiousness just to get to this place, and all that was real. The arrangements, the hurry, the wait. Now that we have arrived, let’s take a long, deep breath and ponder Jesus’ words:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? There do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ Or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. — Matthew 6:26-33
Jesus is not discounting the values of work and preparation, but what he is saying is that God knows we have real needs of clothing, shelter and food, and he will help us with those needs. But he wants our hearts first; he wants us to trust him.
So look at the birds of the air, how they soar through the sky, created just for this moment for you to ponder. Consider the wildflowers that speckle the landscape, each arrayed in colors and designs that tell of the Father’s creativity and beauty. Take in the lushness of the grassy fields, how each blade dances in the wind, joyously proclaiming the goodness of God.
We are of more infinitely more value than the birds, the flowers and the grass. May they remind us that we are precious to the Creator, and just as he provides for them, he will provide for us.
What is making you anxious right now? Why?
How are you more valuable than the birds, the flowers and the grass?
Jesus, I leave the source of my anxiety at your feet. I believe, but help me with my unbelief. I humbly ask for the gift of faith to trust that I am so precious to you that you bore my sin on the cross and to see myself the way that you do. Amen.
Day 2: I Lift My Eyes to the Hills
I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
— Psalm 121: 1-2
The hills of Western Kentucky are made of limestone, a sedimentary rock that was left behind by an ancient sea. It is rich in minerals and easily molded. It tells the story of the earth.
In some ways, we are like the limestone that is the foundation of these hills. We are not what we once were, and we have been hardened by time. We have been shaped by the past, but we are complex and in our new form can nurture new life and tell a story that has purpose.
But we need a Helper. We aren’t shaped into new creations without help from the One who created us. And we are in desperate need.
These hills that surround us may be silent but they still proclaim. As we lift our wondrous eyes to them, they are reminding us of the Creator who knows every rock that lies on their slopes, who carved out every cave for their animal inhabitants to shelter, and who fashioned every creek that channels life-giving water through their valleys. He commanded these hills to rise up, knowing that today, we would be here to marvel at them and to explore them.
And if our eternal God, who made heaven and earth, can do that, what more does he long to do for us? What story are we telling of what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do when we seek him?
Where does your help come from?
What is the Lord whispering to you when you lift your eyes to the hills?
Jesus, you are my Helper — all that I need can be found in you. You told us that even if we are silent, the stones would cry out to worship you. So why do I so easily forget who you are? You were there when the foundations of the earth were laid, yet you love me. You grieve every wound that has hurt me. You know my every thought and have seen me at my worst. Yet you sing over me with delight. You created me and fashioned every hair on my head. And you know the number of my days. Teach me to trust your sovereignty and your love so that I look to you for my help. Amen.
Day 3: I Am the Vine
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is throw away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. — John 15:4-6
Jesus was probably referring to a grapevine, as vineyards were common in that place and time. But we can observe all sorts of vegetation around us that also serve to instill his teaching.
“To abide” means to “continue to be in place for a significant amount of time.” The verb implies home. Jesus invites us into a relationship with him. Not a show of religious activity, but a personal and intimate relationship that is raw and worshipful, honest and devoted. He tells us to stay close, as close as a branch is to the vine. He asks us to live in his presence and to make his presence our home.
Earlier in the summer, the fields here were dotted with blackberry bushes, and the branches that carried the biggest, juiciest and most plentiful fruit tended to be those deep inside, protected and closest to the center of the bush.
When we remain connected to the Vine, we produce fruit that Paul describes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
But we know from experience a branch that is cut will wither and die. Apart from him, we are in peril. As long as we draw breath, his invitation to a relationship stands. The sooner we accept, the sooner we will bear fruit.
What can you do to abide in Jesus?
Take a moment to reflect on one fruit of the Spirit listed above. How you experienced this fruit in yourself and others?
Jesus, teach me to abide in you and to be in relationship with you. In this moment, I never want to be apart. But my flesh is weak, and the enemy wants to cut me from you. Keep me close so that I can bear fruit of you. Amen.
God loves a good party — the kinda party that is filled with laughter and love, food and joy. He established seven feasts (Leviticus 23) for the Israelites to cherish on their calendar. Among those was Passover, a ceremonial meal that recounts how the blood of a sacrificial lamb protected them while they were slaves in Egypt from the death of the firstborn.
More than 12 centuries later, Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples when he tied that historical event to what he would do on the cross as the Lamb of God. He instructed the disciples to remember his sacrifice in taking bread and wine, which we now know as communion (Mark 14:22-23).
Celebrations remember because we forget. They mark beginnings, milestones and accomplishments so that we can revel in the hope and glory that flows from Jesus’ work in our lives. They allow us a moment to taste the sweetness of victory on the other side what was hard. And they bring us together.
God’s seven feasts offered the Israelites a steady rhythm of remembering and rest — in community. Yet he understands our individual journeys because he created the processes of learning, growing and healing. Paul tells us, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).” And until then, he writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:6).”
Lord Jesus, thank you for allowing us to gather here together today to celebrate one another and to remember how far we’ve come. We thank you for every small step and giant leap, for you see them all. We ask for a blessing on the process, that we may draw from the well of your patience and your hope. What a good Father we have to give us these moments to remind us of his love and faithfulness and his joy in us. Thank you for the hospitality we are enjoying and the service of your followers who made this day possible. For you have been in every detail. Amen.
One of my favorite outdoor activities is paddle boarding. I am no expert and only have the opportunity occasionally, but I quickly learned that the body of water is the ever present factor in the experience.
On a quiet lake, paddle boarding is steady and relaxing, like a lazy summertime stroll. But on a river or in the ocean, the currents and the waves are forces to battle. The one and only time I attempted to paddle in the ocean, I struggled to get the board past the break. It was a downright ugly fight and probably even comical to bystanders on the beach. Once I finally made my way through, I still had contend with the constant swells and a couple of playful dolphins.
Then there is river paddle boarding, where the current can make the first half of the ride swift and easy. But on the return, when the direction has changed, paddling is much harder, more intentional, and the trip is much longer. It’s a lot like us living in this broken world, where the status quo requires little effort but any change is difficult and often a slow process.
Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The lies of conformity are cheap promises that keep us flowing with the current.
“Everybody does it.”
“I’m not hurting anyone.”
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
“I deserve it.”
These lies shape us into a norm that maybe is comfortable for a time but ultimately not at all “the abundant life” that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. The ESV Study Bible comments on this verse, “Jesus calls his followers, not to a dour, lifeless, miserable existence that squashes human potential, but to a rich, full, joyful life, one overflowing with meaningful activities under the personal favor and blessing of God and in continual fellowship with his people.”
To find that abundant life, we must be transformed. We must change, we must look completely different. And Paul tells us that transformation flows from renewing our minds. It’s a decision to change direction, to paddle against the current. And no, it’s not easy. It’s a test of our strength and our resolve. It takes time and focus and intention. And yes, sometimes it looks more like an ocean paddle that takes every ounce of determination that we can muster, and maybe we spend more time falling than we do paddle boarding.
But as we renew our minds and are able to begin discerning God’s good, abundant and perfect will for us, we eventually find that steady, quiet lake paddle, where we still must be mindful in our steering and exert a measure of our power — but we will find peace.
How is your life flowing with the current of the world today? How do you want to change direction?
Can you think of a time when you “paddled” against the current? How did that experience strengthen you?
What does Jesus’ “abundant life” look like for you?
Jesus, how good and perfect is your abundant life for us. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear so that we may discern the will of our Father, and give us faith to trust him. We ask that you renew our minds and grant us your supernatural strength as we change direction and paddle against the current of this broken world. We are tired of the cheap lies and empty promises. We want the goodness and perfect peace that you offer. Amen.
When I was a little girl, barely speaking, I was fascinated with a lamp on my parents’ nightstand. Its ceramic base depicted a scene that I can no longer describe, but I do still remember one detail about it.
I would point to the lamp and say, “Horsey!” My mother would respond, “No, that’s a lamp!” I would insist, “Horsey!” This exchange continued several times until one day, my mother looked closely at that lamp and there she saw what I did — a tiny brown horse, with minuscule brush strokes depicting its flowing mane and tail.
I think horses appeal to our little girl souls because they represent how God created us to be — courageous, strong, and beautiful.
In the Book of Job, God lays out to Job several marvels of his creation, including the horse (Job 39:19-20, 22a):
Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
… He laughs at fear and is not dismayed.
Compare his language to the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31:25:
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she laughs at the time to come.
As image bearers of God, maybe we are drawn to the way horses embody both power and gentleness. But that gentleness comes with training and trust.
A young horse must learn obedience and discipline and to focus on his master (or his mistress). His natural spiritedness and power is put under authority. The Old English verb for breaking in a horse was “to meek.”
And the Greek equivalent is “praus,” the word used by Jesus in Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Jesus wasn’t talking about the weak, as our current language would imply. Rather, he was referring to those who are strong in spirit but surrendered to him, those who avoid harshness because they know the love of the Savior, and those who know freedom from fear because their trust is in him.
Meekness, like gentleness, is strength under control. It is being exactly who God created us to be but willingly giving ourselves back to him. It is that intersection where we will “delight in abundant peace” (Psalm 37:11).
Are you spiritually like a wild young horse? Or have you given your loyalty to Jesus?
Do you think of yourself as courageous, strong and beautiful? Share a courageous act from your past, a time when you showed strength, or a moment when you were beautifully gentle.
Did you have a childhood fascination with horses? What encouraging words would you share with that little girl you once were?
Upon his succession to the throne of Israel, Solomon asked God for discernment and wisdom. God was pleased with his humility and not only granted this request but he also gave this son of David wealth and honor so that Solomon would have no equal among earthly kings.
About one thousand years later, Jesus lived in the small agricultural village of Nazareth, the stepson of a tradesman. Not exactly the same earthly experience as Solomon.
Two men, separated by a millennia and extremes of wealth. One a mortal man granted favor by God, the other the Son of God. Yet both warned us of the potential money has steal our freedom.
Proverbs 22:7, which is attributed to Solomon, says, “The rich rules over the poor and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” The Message goes a step further and interprets this verse, “so don’t borrow and put yourself under their power.”
Ouch, Solomon. Must be nice to have enough to bankroll 12,000 horses, 700 wives and 300 concubines. But Solomon undoubtedly knew a few men who were indebted to him, and with his gift of wisdom, recognized the power that he had over them.
In contrast, the King of Kings, in his humanness, knew suffering and probably heard some difficult conversations about putting food on the table. Yet Jesus expounds on Solomon’s warning and tells us that we cannot serve two masters, “You cannot serve God and money.”
I use a leash when I walk my Labrador retriever, Mayfield, in our neighborhood. As her master, I know that the leash protects her from running into the street and keeps her going in the direction where I want to lead her.
Now if another master would put a second leash on her, which of us would be able to lead her? I would be pulling her one way and that second master would be pulling her another. She can only be lead on one leash by one master.
Jesus’ warning is much like Solomon’s in that money will readily master us — if we let it. Money can be an idol that consumes our thoughts, whether we are anxious about having enough or greedily chase after it and all the pleasures it can buy. How we view money reveals the condition of our hearts and who we trust more — God or ourselves.
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavily Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” — Matthew 6:26
Hear that: You have value. Jesus continues,
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” — Matthew 6:31-33
Going back to Mayfield, I demonstrate my love for her by feeding her twice a day and ensuring she has water and that all her needs are met. Sometimes, when she is hungry, she asks me to feed her in her own doggie way. My timing isn’t necessarily hers. But Mayfield trusts me and knows I will provide for her.
We all have had months when money was tight, when we weren’t sure how all the bills would get paid. But here we are today — clothed and fed. Our heavenly Father knows our needs. Out of love for us, he may not necessarily give us what we want — or when we want it. He allows us to learn from the consequences of our actions, as a good dad does. But when we trust him and the provision of grace that he has given us through Jesus, he is faithful.
So when it comes to your money, which leash are you wearing? Are you wearing the leash that tethers you to the demanding, unfaithful master of money worries? Or have you found freedom from anxiousness when you allow the Good Master to lead you?
“Beloved” is a term we don’t hear much in the secular world but we see a lot in the Bible, and there it mostly refers to the reader — to you and to me.
Beloved. It is a name, your name and my name. It is what our Lord calls us. It is a name that drips with a sweetness, like honey. It stops us cold when we’ve been running. It takes our breath away that we could be called “Beloved” by a holy and perfect God.
What if it’s also an invitation? Be loved. Do we believe that we are loved? In 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul writes, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” This purest, most genuine love is ours to embrace. It is for us to breathe in like the most pleasing of aromas and feel like the softest of blankets.
The Bible has a lot to say about love. Because God is love. If you take nothing else away from today, know that you are fully, wholly, unconditionally and completely loved by Jesus, who willingly laid down his life for you and for me. I leave you with the final words of Romans 8:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”