Growing to Know
“You’re going to be an exchange student!” I was seventeen and thrilled to hear I was approved to study in Germany. But it was only three months before my departure, and I had never taken a class in German.
The days that followed found me cramming—studying for hours and even writing words on my hands to memorize them.
Months later I was in a classroom in Germany, discouraged because I didn’t know more of the language. That day a teacher gave me wise advice. “Learning a language is like climbing a sand dune. Sometimes you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. But just keep going, and you will.”
Sometimes I reflect on that insight when I consider what it means to grow as a follower of Jesus. The apostle Paul recalled, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Even for Paul, personal peace didn’t happen overnight. It was something he grew into. Paul shares the secret of his progress: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12–13, emphasis added).
Life has its challenges. But as we turn to the One who has “overcome the world” (John 16:33), we discover not only that He is faithful to get us through but also that nothing matters more than closeness to Him. He gives us His peace, helps us to trust, and empowers us to go the distance as we walk with Him.
Name of Names
The name of Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) is legendary in the world of music. His violins, cellos, and violas are so treasured for their craftsmanship and clarity of sound that many have been given their own names. One of them, for instance, is known as the Messiah-Salabue Stradivarius. After violinist Joseph Joachim (1831–1907) played it, he wrote, “The sound of the Strad, that unique ‘Messie,’ turns up again and again in my memory, with its combined sweetness and grandeur.”
Even the name and sound of a Stradivarius, however, doesn’t deserve to be compared to the work of a far greater Source. From Moses to Jesus, the God of gods introduces himself with a Name above all names. For our sake, He wants the wisdom and work of His own hand to be recognized, valued, and celebrated with the sound of music (Exodus 6:1; 15:1–2).
Yet this deliverance of strength in response to the groans of a troubled people was only prelude. Who could have foreseen that, by the weakness of crucified hands, He would one day leave a legacy of eternal and infinite value? Could anyone have predicted the resulting wonder and grandeur of music sung in praise of the Name of One who died—bearing the insult of our sin and rejection—to show how much He loves us?
In the Vine
One spring after a particularly dreary winter during which she helped a family member through a long illness, Emma found encouragement each time she walked past a cherry tree near her home in Cambridge, England. Bursting out at the top of the pink blossoms grew blossoms of white. A clever gardener had grafted into the tree a branch of white flowers. When Emma passed the unusual tree, she thought of Jesus’s words about being the Vine and His followers the branches (John 15:1–8).
By calling Himself the Vine, Jesus was speaking of an image familiar to the Israelites in the Old Testament, for there the vine symbolized God’s people (Psalm 80:8–9; Hosea 10:1). Jesus extended this symbolism to Himself, saying He was the Vine and that His followers were grafted into Him as branches. And as they remained in Him, receiving His nourishment and strength, they would bear fruit (John 15:5).
As Emma supported her family member, she needed the reminder that she was connected to Jesus. Seeing the white flowers among the pink ones gave her a visual prompt of the truth that as she remained in the Vine, she gained nourishment through Him.
When we who follow Jesus embrace the idea of being as close to Him as a branch is to a vine, our faith is strengthened and enriched.
Many movie critics consider David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia one of the greatest films of all time. With its seemingly endless vistas of the Arabian deserts, it has influenced a generation of filmmakers—including Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg. “I was inspired the first time I saw Lawrence,” said Spielberg. “It made me feel puny. It still makes me feel puny. And that’s one measure of its greatness.”
What makes me feel small is creation’s vastness—when I gaze at an ocean, fly over the polar ice cap, or survey a night sky sparkling with a billion stars. If the created universe is so expansive, how much greater must be the Creator who spoke it into being!
God’s greatness and our feelings of insignificance are echoed by David when he declared, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:4 nlt). But Jesus assures us, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26 nasb).
I may feel small and insignificant, but through my Father’s eyes, I have great worth—a worth that is proven every time I look at the cross. The price He was willing to pay to restore me to fellowship with Him is evidence of how He values me.
Turn and Run
Ali was a beautiful, smart, and talented teenager with loving parents. But after high school something prompted her to try heroin. Her parents noticed changes in her and sent her to a rehabilitation facility after Ali eventually admitted the impact it was having on her. After treatment, they asked what she would tell her friends about trying drugs. Her advice: “Just turn and run.” She urged that “just saying no” wasn’t enough.
Tragically, Ali relapsed and died at age twenty-two of an overdose. In an attempt to keep others from the same fate, her heartbroken parents appeared on a local news program entreating listeners to “run for Ali” by staying far from situations where they could be exposed to drugs and other dangers.
The apostle Paul urged his spiritual son Timothy (and us) to run from evil (2 Timothy 2:22), and the apostle Peter likewise warned, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
None of us are immune to temptation. And often the best thing to do is to steer clear of such situations where we’ll be tempted—though they can’t always be avoided. But we can be better prepared by having a strong faith in God based in the Bible and strengthened through prayer. When we “[stand] firm in the faith” we will know when to turn and run to Him.