Her breathing labored, her skin sallow, she is but a shadow of the vivacious woman whose laughter resonated around the room at family gatherings. Those who love her come and go, trying to capture one last visit, one last embrace. They wait and watch.

Death isn’t easy. Not for the one dying, nor for those standing by the bedside. Those who are dying are spiritual beings wrestling free from a body that groans in a world marred by sin (Romans 8:20-23). Understandably, we grasp for more time when the life of someone we love hangs in the balance. Even if the relationship has been difficult, we hesitate to let go—remembering what has been or hoping for what might still be.

Every person must face death, and with it the judgment of God (2 Corinthians 5:10). For the believer, death isn’t a punishment. Instead, it brings us into the very presence of the One for whom we were made. To those who have received salvation in Jesus, even the unknowns of death don’t produce fear. This applies to us personally and also when we witness someone we love taking his or her last breath (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 5:10). We were made for life, not death (2 Corinthians 5:4).

Though we may question God’s timing, His decisions, or His methods, we don’t run in fear or shake our fist at God when we’re forced to walk through the dark valley of death. The call of heaven is the hope-inspiring message of life in Christ, whether in death or life. Strength becomes real when, even in our grief, we choose to worship with our words, our actions, our very lives. We can triumph over darkness and despair as we firmly grasp the reality that we’re no longer living for ourselves, for we’re alive in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:7-9).

enough to share

There was a season when my young son and I had 12 little guests at our dinner table in Uganda every night for 3 consecutive years. Previous to our sharing dinner with them, the children had often gone entire days without food. They began coming to our house when they heard that I would feed them. Many of the boys and girls—some as young as 3 years old—walked nearly 5 miles to reach our home, so I gave them a ride home each evening.

Our meals were filled with laughter as the boys and girls tried spaghetti and other foods for the first time. My heart overflowed with joy and I felt blessed as I watched the children who had been gaunt with hunger and depleted of strength gain energy and begin to run and play with other boys and girls their age. Wasswa and I discovered the more we generously shared, the more God provided for us to give away (Deuteronomy 15:8,10).

We often neglect helping others because we think we don’t have enough to give. Consider what happened when the disciples faced the prospect of feeding a huge crowd: “The disciples came to [Jesus] and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘That isn’t necessary—you feed them.’ ‘But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!’ they answered” (Matthew 14:15-17).

Despite their doubts, Jesus provided enough food to feed the entire crowd and then some. He multiplied the provisions to meet the need.

Jesus calls for us to join Him in satisfying the hunger of His treasured ones (Psalm 17:14). Today, ask Him to open your eyes to the need of those around you (Deuteronomy 15:11; Proverbs 28:27)

roots that drink from heaven

A man knocked on my office door and asked me if I would officiate his marriage. I asked him to sit down so we could chat about his plans, timing, and spiritual life. “Oh, I’m not sure you understand,” he said, “I’d like you to marry me today, like in the next hour.” The story is complicated, but his fiancée was from a country in Asia and was living in the US with a short-term visa. For numerous reasons he wanted to marry right away, but he didn’t want a civil authority to perform the ceremony. He wanted a church and a pastor.

While there were many factors at play in this man’s situation, he clearly understood that marriage was a holy thing. Even in his predicament, he wanted to ensure that he and his fiancée recognized God in their vows.

This impulse was right, for Scripture tells us that marriage is—at its core—not foremost about a human action but God’s action. Matthew described how the “Pharisees came and tried to trap [Jesus] with [a] question” (Matthew 19:3) concerning the appropriate conditions for divorce (a question designed to force Jesus to take sides in a heated religious dispute). But Jesus refused to answer the question on their terms. Rather, He reasserted the central biblical teaching that the union of a husband and wife is not a matter of human creation or human dissolution (Matthew 19:4-5). In marriage, man and woman are “no longer two but one,” Matthew wrote, because “God has joined [them] together” (Matthew 19:6).

Marriage is God’s idea. It’s one of the ways He makes His love visible in the world. The healing of broken marital relationships is His work. The poet Rilke described marriages as “roots that drink from heaven.” What a perfect description!

finish well

After my grandmother died, my husband and I were quizzed about death by our 5-year-old twins. All I could think of to say was that she’d finished her work and then passed away. It’s a simple idea, but Scripture reveals that we have a certain number of days to finish our work on earth (Psalm 39:4, Psalm 90:10,12).

Moses had things to complete in his life. And he was 120 years old when he died! At the end, he spoke a blessing over the Israelites—who had cursed him and grumbled against him during their 40 years in the desert—and then he climbed a mountain, viewed the Promised Land, died, and was buried by the Lord (Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12).

Deuteronomy captures the final days of Moses, an extraordinary leader who also experienced many weaknesses and failings. He committed murder, fled from his adoptive family, lied, lost his temper, and at times exhibited a lack of faith. Despite all this, Moses finished well. “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). He died in good health, strong, and at peace with His Maker—the way I hope to die when my work on earth is finished. “His eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever” (Deuteronomy 34:7).

Pastor and author Max Lucado suggests that life is less about finishing everything and more about finishing the right things well. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

We have a race to run with things to do, and—no matter our failings—we still have opportunity to make peace with God and people. We too can finish well!

heart decisions

A young woman wrote: “I’ve fallen in love with an unbeliever, but I know it’s wrong. What should I do?” One of our authors posted her question and his answer on the ODJ website.

Three months later, the young woman made a comment in the same post. She said that even though unbelieving family and friends condemned her for not marrying the young man, she chose to break up with him due to her love for Jesus. She described the persecution she’d endured, but also the joy in doing what pleased God. Then—get this—she wrote that the young man had recently become a believer! She closed by writing, “Let us come to God with a pure heart, willing to obey.”

The apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, instructing him in what it takes to have a “pure heart” and to “keep [himself] pure” (1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:21). Paul knew that the heart decisions that led to purity before God were hard ones. Yet he implored Timothy to realize that “soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them” (2 Timothy 2:4). In other words, doing what’s contrary to God’s commands (including marrying an unbeliever) is disobedience and sin that breaks God’s heart and leads to personal heartache.

Paul called Timothy to make heart decisions that might lead to suffering, but would also “bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:10). For if we “endure hardship, we will reign with [God]. If we deny him, he will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12-13).

The young woman who wrote to ODJ made the hard decision. The result? A young man has now received Jesus as his Savior. May we follow her example in all our heart decisions.

in the light of God

Pastor G. Campbell Morgan was quoted as saying: “What we do in the crisis always depends on whether we see the difficulties in the light of God, or God in the shadow of the difficulties.” When people face any kind of crisis, they tend to look through the lens of fear and anxiety.

The widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7 seemed to see her difficulties in the light of God—not God in the shadow of her difficulties. Though her husband had been a member of a “group of prophets,” she faced the prospect of her two sons being forced into slavery to work off the family debt (2 Kings 4:1; see also Leviticus 25:39-41).

In the midst of this crisis, the widow turned to the right source for help. She turned to Elisha, who represented God (2 Kings 4:1). Next, she acknowledged the limitations of her own resources to bring resolution to her crisis (2 Kings 4:2). Third, she leaned on others for assistance (2 Kings 4:3). She didn’t let pride prevent her from reaching out to others who could help. Finally, she followed Elisha’s specific instructions, and God provided miraculously for the needs of her family (2 Kings 4:4-6). The miracle supplied her with a marketable commodity to use in paying off her debt, left enough to support her family, and enabled them to remain together. Her response to the crisis proved that she saw her difficulties in the light of God.

Experiencing family and personal crises can be frightening, exhausting, and even debilitating. But we can rest assured that God is near, sees what’s happening, and is concerned about us. Our response is not to cower under anxiety and fear, but to see all of our difficulties in the light of God’s power, faithfulness, and love.

shattered dreams

A friend had been working at a job he loved for many years when he was suddenly laid off. He took another position at a new company, but the work was not as fulfilling and didn’t pay well. Then the first employer asked him to return, which he did with joy. Sadly, he and most of the workforce were again laid off just 7 days later. The other company wouldn’t take him back, and he’s now working a menial, low-paying job. His dreams of having a position he needs and loves have been shattered.

Isaiah spoke to the heart of God’s people whose dreams had been shattered after they’d been forced into exile by Babylon. Having already known the bitterness of being oppressed by Egypt in the past and—more recently—by Assyria, they were “enslaved again” (Isaiah 52:4-5). Hopes of living with honor and liberty were buried in the “dust” of their “captivity” (Isaiah 52:1-2,11).

God gave His people hope through the words of His prophet. Isaiah wrote of “the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). Hope is found in a God who’s in control even when life seems to be out of control. “The LORD will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind” (Isaiah 52:12). Hope is found in a God “who has our back” even when we feel like we’ve been stabbed in the back.

As I talked with my hurting, disillusioned friend, I didn’t focus on his current circumstances but on what God was doing in and through him. When we feel like we’re in exile caused by a difficult relationship, job, or situation, it’s vital that we find our hope in God’s character and His “good work within” us (Philippians 1:6). He can take shattered dreams and create something beautiful.