Through the years I’ve noticed something when my wife plants sweet potatoes in our garden. Amazingly, corn doesn’t grow. Sweet potatoes do. (Brilliant, I know.) You’ll enjoy this scene from Secondhand Lions.
God has set up a system in the natural realm that works with remarkable consistency: you plant corn, you reap corn—not sweet potatoes. And vice versa.
This is true not only in gardening but with regard to every part of our lives.
I sat in the front row of my 8th grade math class and squinted at the chalkboard. A total blur. I had to face it. I needed glasses.
I’ll never forget the moment I put on my glasses for the first time. WOW! A different perspective entirely! I had no idea the details of life I had missed. They were there all the time, but I literally could not see them.
Glasses and contacts made a huge difference. Trees had leaves. Shapes had sharp edges. Colors were more vibrant. And, oh yeah, I could see in math class.
That worked great for about 35 years. But now I have another problem. As my eyeballs have aged, they have given me 2 choices:
- I can see far away (with my contacts).
- Or I can see up close (without contacts).
It was one perspective or the other—until my optometrist gave me a really weird solution.
You and I have the same challenge spiritually.
In King David’s day, the city of Jerusalem stood as a renovation and expansion of Jebus, a site the Hebrews never occupied in the territory of Benjamin.
Those who come to Jerusalem today for the first time are often surprised to learn that the original Jerusalem, “The City of David,” sat on a mere ten acres just south of the Temple Mount. Hardly impressive, it looks like some third-world neighborhood.
Steep slopes surround the City of David and gave it in a strategic advantage during any military threat. So much so, the inhabitants of Jebus felt confident “David cannot enter here” (2 Samuel 5:6). But he did, and David made the site his new capital.
The steep slopes became King David’s military strength.
But the slopes also played into his moral weakness. Here’s how.
A couple of months ago I noticed the “maintenance” light come on in my car. That meant the oil and filter needed changing. I thought, Yeah, I’ll do that soon. Right.
About a month went by and I thought: You know, I need to deal with that. I forgot again. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later I finally got it changed. I put it off because I’m a busy guy—and hey, oil and filters can always wait another day.
But then another warning light went off. This one was serious.
The first Christmas looked like a coincidence. From a human perspective, politics set the agenda: Caesar took a census of his people. Period. End of story.
(Picture by Danka Peter)
But from the divine viewpoint? God orchestrated ordinary events for extraordinary outcomes.
Think about this past year in your life. Many ordinary events occurred. Most you don’t remember. But God has been working.
It isn’t just the Christmas story. It’s your story too. God uses the power of providence in your life as well.
Few choices last a lifetime. Most require daily, deliberate reminders. Joshua knew this well. Immediately after he and the young nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, they made a beeline to a particular valley between two mountains.
God had commanded half the people to stand before one mountain and the other half to position itself before the other. Each group was to shout either the blessings or the curses that Israel would experience as a result of their response to God’s Law (Deuteronomy 11:29).
As they shouted, their voices echoed in the city of Shechem, which lay in the valley between these hills. Before God’s people would conquer and settle the land, they affirmed their obedience to God in the very place where God had promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:7).
The significance of the place served to strengthen their commitment to God.
If we’ll listen, it can strengthen ours as well.
We all pray for our children. We want them to do well in school, or to get a good job, or to stay healthy. But their greatest need for prayer is their spiritual lives.
The longer I am a parent, the more I see the truth in the Apostle John’s words:
I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. —3 John 4
If our children have a genuine walk with God, they will be better equipped to make wise choices throughout their lives. Our challenge, then, is how to pray for our children in this way.
When our daughters were only toddlers, Cathy and I participated an excellent parenting class that gave us a handout called: “How to Pray for Your Children.” We prayed through this list for years. In fact, as I read through each point today, I can remember specific instances in which God answered the prayers. He is still answering them.
I have edited the list and added some verses to it. I have also made a PDF you can download and print to keep in your Bible or prayer journal.
It’s never too late to begin praying for your children—and your grandchildren.
It is one of the greatest investments you will ever make into their lives.
As a teenager, I knew everything. You could even say I was omniscient. I marveled at the incompetence of adults on the simplest issues. They just didn’t get it.
And then I grew up, and something strange happened. I discovered that as an omniscient person, I still had a lot to learn.
So many times I stood so sure of myself only to discover how woefully ignorant I was.
- I knew a lot about the Bible until I went to seminary. It turns out, the more I learned, the less I knew.
- I knew everything about marriage until I got married. But matrimony is course in art, not science. I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.
- I was an expert on parenting until I had kids. Parenting offers a long course of study on your own selfishness.
I’ve learned a lot since I became omniscient. But you know where that omniscient teenager resurfaces the most in my life? The same place it shows itself in your life.
When we’re talking to God.
Most of us Christians have experienced those incredible moments of intimacy with God when we have no yearning for any earthly joy, much less for sin. Christ becomes our entire desire.
In those times, we make impassioned commitments of absolute dedication. We really believe we have turned a corner in our spiritual lives. But for some reason . . . it doesn’t last.
In those deflating moments, our spirituality exits like air from a balloon:
- Driving away from church, our family fights over where to eat.
- After our quiet time, our bickering children rapidly rob us of joy.
- On the way to work, a hurried driver cuts us off and waves with only a fraction of his hand.
All of a sudden, commitment wanes. And these are just the little things.
What about real life crises? What about those times when success is demanded but a lack of success seems all we get?
Jesus spoke words of encouragement for moments just like these.
I’ve noticed an unsettling habit in my life. Whenever I find myself with a free moment, I feel compelled to fill it with something productive. Because I hate to waste time, I fill it with activity and justify it as productivity.
But I’m learning that constant movement doesn’t represent efficiency.
It could, moreover, represent just the opposite.
As with every other part of the human experience, Jesus remains our model of efficiency. But His life—even before the cross—was no easy walk:
- The demands on Him were constant.
- The needs He faced were overwhelming.
- The expectations He encountered were unrealistic.
No person was ever more qualified to do it all, and yet Jesus took life in the fast lane in stride.
What was His secret?