22 JAN: A PRISONER NO MORE

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Romans 7:15

READ ROMANS 7:15-25

A middle-aged man approached Randy after he led a workshop at the man's place of employment and asked this question: “I’ve been a Christian nearly my whole life, but I’m constantly disappointed in myself. Why is it that I always seem to keep doing the things I wish I didn’t do and never seem to do the things I know I should? Isn’t God getting tired of me?” Two men standing next to Randy also seemed eager to hear the response.

That’s a common struggle that even the apostle Paul experienced. “I do not understand what I do,” he said, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). But here’s some good news: We don’t have to stay in that trap of discouragement. To paraphrase Paul as he writes in Romans 8, the key is to stop focusing on the law and start focusing on Jesus. We can’t do anything about our sinfulness in our own strength. The answer is not “try harder to be good at keeping the rules.” Instead, we must focus on the One who shows us mercy and cooperate with the Spirit who changes us.

When we focus on the law, we are constantly reminded that we’ll never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. But when we focus on Jesus, we become more like Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

I sometimes get caught in the cycle of trying harder to be good, failing, getting discouraged, and giving up. Help me, Lord, to depend on Your grace and to draw near to You so that You can change my heart.

Focus on Jesus.

21 JAN: COME BACK...

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. Luke 15:20

READ LUKE 15:11-24

When James and his Wife were going through a particularly challenging time with their son, a friend pulled James aside after a church meeting. “I want you to know that I pray for you and your son every day,” he said. Then he added: “I feel so guilty.”

“Why?” James asked. “Because I’ve never had to deal with prodigal children,” he said. “My kids pretty much played by the rules. But it wasn’t because of anything I did or didn’t do. Kids,” he shrugged, “make their own choices.”

James wanted to hug him. His compassion was a reminder, a gift from God, communicating to James the Father’s understanding for the struggle with his son.

No one understands the struggle with prodigals better than our heavenly Father. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is our story and God’s. Jesus told it on behalf of all sinners who so desperately need to come home to their Creator and discover the warmth of a loving relationship with Him.

Jesus is God in the flesh seeing us in the distance and looking on us with compassion. He is God running to us and throwing His arms around us. He is heaven’s kiss welcoming the repentant sinner home (verse 20).

God hasn’t just left the porch light on for us. He’s out on the front porch watching, waiting, calling us home. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

We ask again today, Lord, that our prodigals would come home. James Banks is author of Prayers for Prodigals by Discovery House.

Our loved ones may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons—but they are helpless against our prayers. J. Sidlow Baxter

20 JAN: POINTING TO GOD

Remember now your Creator . . . before the difficult days come. — Ecclesiastes 12:1

READ DEUTERONOMY 8:11-18

“God bless our homeland, Ghana” is the first line of Ghana’s national anthem. Other African anthems include: “O Uganda, may God uphold thee,” “Lord, bless our nation” (South Africa), and “O God of creation, direct our noble cause” (Nigeria). Using the anthems as prayers, founding fathers called on God to bless their land and its people. Many national anthems in Africa and others from around the world point to God as Creator and Provider. Other lines of anthems call for reconciliation, transformation, and hope for a people often divided along ethnic, political, and social lines.

Yet today, many national leaders and citizens tend to forget God and do not live by these statements—especially when life is going well. But why wait until war, disease, storms, terrorist attacks, or election violence occurs before we remember to seek God? Moses warned the ancient Israelites not to forget God and not to stop following His ways when life was good (Deuteronomy 8:11). Ecclesiastes 12:1 urges us to “remember now your Creator . . . before the difficult days come.

Getting close to God while we are strong and healthy prepares us to lean on Him for support and hope when those “difficult days” in life come. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Father, I always need You. Forgive me for thinking I am sufficient in myself. Help me to follow You and Your ways whether life is easy or difficult. Thank You for caring for me.

Remembering our Creator can be our personal anthem.

19 JAN: PRACTICING HUMILITY

[Jesus] humbled himself. Philippians 2:8

READ PHILIPPIANS 2:1-11

Tibetan-born Sherpa Nawang Gombu and American Jim Whittaker reached the top of Mount Everest on May 1, 1963. As they approached the peak, each considered the honor of being the first of the two to step to the summit. Whittaker motioned for Gombu to move ahead, but Gombu declined with a smile, saying, “You first, Big Jim!” Finally, they decided to step to the summit at the same time.

Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to demonstrate this kind of humility. He said, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Selfishness and superiority can divide people, but humility unites us, since it is the quality of “being one in spirit and of one mind” (verse 2).

When quarrels and disagreements occur, we can often diffuse them by giving up our right to be right. Humility calls us to show grace and gentleness when we would rather insist on our own way. “In humility value others above yourselves” (verse 3).

Practicing humility helps us to become more like Jesus who, for our sake, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death” (verses 7-8). Following in Jesus’ footsteps means backing away from what is best for us and doing what is best for others. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Jesus, You gave up Your life for me. Help me to see each sacrifice I make as a reflection of Your humility. In putting others first, let me honor You.

Humility promotes unity.

18 JAN: HATE DESTROYS

While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. Romans 5:10

READ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-21

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached on a Sunday morning in 1957, he fought the temptation to retaliate against a society steeped in racism.

“How do you go about loving your enemies?” he asked the Dexter Avenue Baptist congregation in Montgomery, Alabama. “Begin with yourself. . . . When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.”

Quoting from the words of Jesus, King said: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45).

As we consider those who harm us, we are wise to remember our former status as enemies of God (see Romans 5:10). But “[God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” wrote Paul (2 Corinthians 5:18). Now we have a holy obligation. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (verse 19).

We are to take that message to the world. Racial and political tensions are nothing new. But the business of the church is never to feed divisiveness. We should not attack those unlike us or those who hold different opinions or even those who seek our destruction. Ours is a “ministry of reconciliation” that imitates the selfless servant-heart of Jesus. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. John Oxenham

Hate destroys the hater as well as the hated. Martin Luther King Jr.

17 JAN: LIKE A GARDEN

Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:12

READ 1 CORINTHIANS 14:6-12,26

The world-class botanical garden across the street from Julie's church was the setting for an all-church community gathering. As Julie walked around the gardens greeting people she have known for years, catching up with those she hadn’t seen recently, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings cared for by people who know and love plants, she realized that the evening was rich with symbols of how the church is supposed to function—a little hint of heaven on earth.

A garden is a place where each plant is placed in an environment in which it will thrive. Gardeners prepare the soil, protect the plants from pests, and make sure each one receives the food, water, and sunlight it needs. The result is a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant place for people to enjoy.

Like a garden, church is meant to be a place where everyone works together for the glory of God and the good of all; a place where everyone flourishes because we are living in a safe environment; a place where people are cared for according to their needs; where each of us does work we love—work that benefits others (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Like well-cared-for plants, people growing in a healthy environment have a sweet fragrance that draws people to God by displaying the beauty of His love. The church is not perfect, but it really is a hint of heaven. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

How can you promote the health of your church? Ask God to help you serve others as Christ serves us. Serve in a role that matches your skills and interests. Listen well to others and pray for them.

Hearts fragrant with the love of Christ display His beauty.

16 JAN: GROWING UP

Anyone who lives on milk . . . is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. Hebrews 5:13

READ HEBREWS 5:11-14

The axolotl (pronounced ACK suh LAH tuhl) is a biological enigma. Instead of maturing into adult form, this endangered Mexican salamander retains tadpole-like characteristics throughout its life. Writers and philosophers have used the axolotl as a symbol of someone who fears growth.

In Hebrews 5 we learn about Christians who were avoiding healthy growth, remaining content with spiritual “milk” intended for new believers. Perhaps because of fear of persecution, they weren’t growing in the kind of faithfulness to Christ that would enable them to be strong enough to suffer with Him for the sake of others (verses 7-10). Instead they were in danger of sliding backward from the Christlike attitudes they had already shown (6:9-11). They weren’t ready for a solid diet of self-sacrifice (5:14). So the author wrote, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand” (verse 11).

Axolotls follow the natural pattern set for them by their Creator. But followers of Christ are designed to grow into spiritual maturity. As we do, we discover that growing up in Him involves more than our own peace and joy. Growth in His likeness honors God as we unselfishly encourage others. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, I want to grow, so help me to go deeper into Your Word. Teach me more each day, so that I am better equipped to serve and worship You.

The more we live on a diet of God’s Word, the more we grow.