8 JUL: COMMON PEOPLE

We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. — 2 Corinthians 4:7

READ JUDGES 6:11–16

Gideon was an ordinary person. His story, recorded in Judges 6, inspires me. He was a farmer, and a timid one at that. When God called him to deliver Israel from the Midianites, Gideon’s initial response was “How can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). God promised that He would be with Gideon and that he would be able to accomplish what he had been asked to do (verse 16). Gideon’s obedience brought victory to Israel, and he is listed as one of the great heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:32).

Many other individuals played a significant part in this plan to save the Israelites from a strong enemy force. God provided Gideon with 300 men, valiant heroes all, to win the battle. We are not told their names, but their bravery and obedience are recorded in the Scriptures (Judges 7:5-23).

Today, God is still calling ordinary people to do His work and assuring us that He will be with us as we do. Because we are ordinary people being used by God, it’s obvious that the power comes from God and not from us. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, I am just an ordinary person, but You are an all-powerful God. I want to serve You. Please show me how and give me the strength.

7 JUL: ALLAYER OF UNREST

I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. — John 14:16

READ JOB 16:1-5

Let's paint a picture: William was sick. Really sick! Diagnosed with a nervous system disease, the little boy suffered from temporary paralysis. His anxious parents prayed. And waited. Slowly, William began to recover. Months later, when doctors cleared him to attend school, all William could manage was a slow, unsteady walk.

One day his dad visited him at school. He watched his son haltingly descend the steps to the playground. And then he saw William’s young friend Perry come alongside him. For the entire recess, as the other kids raced and romped and played, Perry slowly walked the playground with his frail friend.

Job must have ached for a friend like Perry. Instead, he had three friends who were certain he was guilty. “Who ever perished, being innocent?” asked Eliphaz (Job 4:7). Such accusations prompted Job to bitterly declare, “Miserable comforters are you all!” (16:2).

How unlike Jesus. On the eve of His crucifixion He took time to comfort His disciples. He promised them the Holy Spirit, who would be with them forever (John 14:16), and assured them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18). Then, just before He returned to His Father, He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

The One who died for us also walks with us, step by painstaking step.

REFLECT & PRAY 

Father, we tend to say too much to our hurting friends. Help us choose our words wisely. Teach us to walk slowly with those in pain, as You walk patiently with us.

6 JUL: LIGHT OF THE WORLD

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, . . . nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness. — Psalm 91:5-6

READ PSALM 91:1-8

A paper boy talked about his experience in the 80's when he deliveres newspaper to about 140 homes on two streets that were connected by a cemetery. Since he delivered a morning newspaper, he had to be out at 3:00 a.m. walking through that cemetery in the darkness. Sometimes he would be so frightened that he would actually run! I was afraid until I was standing safely under a streetlight on the other side he said.

The scary darkness was dispelled by the light. The psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness” (Psalm 91:5-6). Neither terrors of night nor evil in the darkness need to drive us to fear. We have a God who sent His Son, the Light of the World (John 8:12).

In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to live for Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, I come to You, the Light of the World. I want You to bring Your light into the darkness of my fears.

5 JUL: CLOSER TO GOD

I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger. — John 6:35

READ JOHN 6:30-40

When Jesus lived on this earth, He invited people to come to Him, and He still does today (John 6:35). But what do He and His Father in heaven have that we need?

Salvation. Jesus is the only way to have forgiveness of sin and the promise of heaven. “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15).

Purpose. We are to give all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength to following Jesus. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

Comfort. In trial or sorrow, the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Wisdom. We need wisdom beyond our own for making decisions. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, . . . and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Strength. When we’re weary, “the Lord will give strength to His people” (Psalm 29:11).

Abundant life. The fullest life is found in a relationship with Jesus. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Come! 

REFLECT & PRAY 

How can I grow closer to God today? Jesus invites us to come to Him for life.

4 JUL: THE CYRUS CYLINDER

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia. — Ezra 1:1

READ EZRA 1:1-4

In 1879, archaeologists discovered a remarkable little item in an area now known as Iraq (biblical Babylon). Just 9 inches long, the Cyrus Cylinder records something that King Cyrus of Persia did 2,500 years ago. It says that Cyrus allowed a group of people to return to their homeland and rebuild their “holy cities.”

It’s the same story told in Ezra 1. There we read that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” to make a proclamation (verse 1). And in that proclamation, Cyrus said he was releasing the captives in Babylon to go home to Jerusalem, re-establish their homes, and rebuild their temple (verses 2-5).

But there’s more to the story. Daniel confessed his sins and his people’s sins and pleaded with God to end the Babylonian captivity (Daniel 9). In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent an angel to speak to Daniel (verse 21). Later He moved Cyrus to release the Hebrews. (See also Jeremiah 25:11-12; 39:10.)

Together, the Cyrus Cylinder and God’s Word combine to show us that the king’s heart was changed and he allowed the exiled Hebrews to go home and worship.

This story has great implications for us today. In a world that seems out of control, we can rest assured that God can move the hearts of leaders. We read in Proverbs 21:1 that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” And Romans 13:1 says that “there is no authority except from God.”

The Lord, who is able to change our own hearts as well as the hearts of our leaders, can be trusted for He is in control. Let’s ask Him to work. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Dear Father, the world so often seems out of control. We know You are sovereign over everything. We pray that Your will be done in our homeland and in the hearts of our leaders.

3 JUL: LETTERS IN THE BIBLE

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. — 2 Timothy 4:7

READ 2 TIMOTHY 4:1-8

For more than two decades, Andrew Carroll has been urging people not to throw away the letters written by family members or friends during a time of war. Carroll, director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, considers them an irreplaceable link to tie families together and open a door of understanding. “Younger generations are reading these letters,” Carroll says, “and asking questions and saying, ‘Now I understand what you endured, what you sacrificed.’ ”

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew his life would soon end, he wrote a letter to a young man whom he considered a “son in the faith,” Timothy. Like a soldier on the battlefield, Paul opened his heart to him: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

When we read the letters in the Bible that the heroes of the Christian faith have left for us and grasp what they endured because of their love for Christ, we gain courage to follow their example and to stand strong for those who come after us. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, give us strength for the spiritual battles we face today, knowing that You have won the ultimate victory and that we will one day live eternally with You.

2 JUL: BLAZING DISCUSSIONS

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt. — Colossians 4:6

READ JAMES 3:2-10

In northern Ghana, bush fires are regular occurrences in the dry season between December and March. Many acres of farmland could be set ablaze when the winds carry tiny embers from fireplaces or from cigarette butts carelessly thrown by the roadside. With the dry grassland vegetation, all that is needed to start a devastating fire is a little spark.

That is how James describes the tongue, calling it “a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). A false statement made here or backbiting there, a vicious remark somewhere else, and relationships are destroyed. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords,” says Proverbs 12:18, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing”. Just as fire has both destructive and useful elements, so “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). For conversation that reflects God’s presence in us and pleases Him, let it “always be with grace” (Col. 4:6).

When expressing our opinions during disagreements, let’s ask God to help us choose wholesome language that brings honor to Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Guide my conversation today, Lord. May the words I choose bless and encourage others and build them up rather than tear them down. May You be pleased with what You hear.

1 JUL: GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. — John 3:17

READ JOHN 4:7-15, 28-30

The St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota, is renowned for making beautiful music. One reason for its excellence is the selection process. Applicants are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.

One of the things that intrigues me the most about this choir is what happens during rehearsals. Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it! This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.

I think this is the kind of community Jesus was establishing when He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17). Shortly after this conversation, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the public well. He made it easy for her to admit failure by promising her a better way of life where she could enjoy His forgiveness (John 4).

As members of Christ’s body on Earth, we should not fear admitting our wrongs but welcome it as an opportunity to together experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, it’s our tendency to hide our sins and flaws. May we come to You in full honesty, understanding that we are loved and forgiven by You.