Bart Millard penned a megahit in 2001 when he wrote, “I Can Only Imagine.” The song pictures how amazing it will be to be in Jesus’s presence.
Millard’s lyrics offered comfort to our family the next year when our seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa died in a car accident and we imagined what it was like for her to be in God’s presence.
But imagine spoke to me in a different way in the days following Mell’s death. As fathers of Melissa’s friends approached me, full of concern and pain, they said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Their expressions were helpful, showing that they were grappling with our loss in an empathetic way—finding it unimaginable.
David pinpointed the depth of great loss when he described walking through “the darkest valley” (Psalm 23:4). The death of a loved one certainly is that, and we sometimes have no idea how we’re going to navigate the darkness. We can’t imagine ever being able to come out on the other side.
But as God promised to be with us in our darkest valley now, He also provides great hope for the future by assuring us that beyond the valley we’ll be in His presence. For the believer, to be “away from the body” means being present with Him (2 Corinthians 5:8). That can help us navigate the unimaginable as we imagine our future reunion with Him and others.
During the 2018 World Cup, Colombian forward Radamel Falcao scored in the seventieth minute against Poland, securing a victory. The dramatic goal was Falcao’s thirtieth in international play, earning him the distinction of scoring the most goals by a Columbian player in international competition.
Falcao has often used his success on the soccer pitch to share his Christian faith, frequently lifting his jersey after a score to reveal a shirt with the words, “Con Jesus nunca estara solo”: “With Jesus you'll never be alone.”
Falcao’s statement points us to the reassuring promise from Jesus, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Knowing He was about to return to heaven, Jesus comforted His disciples by assuring them He’d always be with them, through the presence of His Spirit (v. 19; John 14:16–18). Christ’s Spirit would comfort, guide, protect, and empower them as they took the message of Jesus to cities both near and far. And when they experienced periods of intense loneliness in unfamiliar places, Jesus’s words would likely echo in their ears, a gentle reminder of His presence with them.
No matter where we go, whether close to home or a faraway place, as we follow Christ into the unknown, we too can cling to this same promise. Even when we experience feelings of loneliness, as we reach out in prayer to Jesus, we can receive comfort knowing He is with us.
Divided in Love
When public debate erupted over a controversial Singapore law, it divided Christians with differing views. Some called others “narrow-minded” or accused them of compromising their faith.
Controversies can cause sharp divisions among God’s family, bringing much hurt and discouraging people. I’ve been made to feel small over personal convictions on how I apply the Bible’s teachings to my life. And I’m sure I’ve been equally guilty of criticizing others I disagree with.
I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?
Yet there are times when we need to address false teaching or explain our stand. Ephesians 4:2–6 reminds us to do so with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And, above all else, to make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3).
Some controversies will remain unresolved. God’s Word, however, reminds us that our goal should always be to build up people’s faith, not tear them down (2 Timothy 2:25). Are we putting others down to win an argument? Or are we allowing God to help us understand His truths in His time and His way, remembering that we share one faith in one Lord (Ephesians 4:4–6)?
The Mouse That Roared
Several years ago my sons and I spent a few days camping in the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness in Northern Idaho. It’s grizzly bear habitat, but we carried bear spray, kept our campsites clean, and anticipated no major grizzly encounters.
One evening, in the middle of the night, I heard Randy scramble around trying to get out of his sleeping bag. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it on, expecting to see him in the clutches of an enraged grizzly.
There, sitting upright on its haunches and waving its paws in the air was a field mouse about 4” tall. It had Randy’s cap firmly clenched in its teeth. The little creature had tugged and tugged until he pulled Randy’s cap from his head. As I laughed in relief, the mouse dropped the cap and scampered away. We crawled back into our sleeping bags. I, however, fully adrenalized, couldn’t get back to sleep and began to think about another predator—the devil.
Consider Satan’s temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1–14). He countered his enticements with the Scriptures. With each answer, Jesus reminded Himself that God had spoken on this issue and therefore He would not disobey. This caused the devil to flee.
Although Satan wants to devour us, it’s good to remember that he’s a created being like the little rodent. Jesus, “the one who is in [us,] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
When Life Is Hard
Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, I curled up in my recliner. Our family had followed God’s leading and had moved from California to Wisconsin. After we arrived, car broke down and left us without a vehicle for two months. Meanwhile, my husband’s limited mobility after an unexpected back surgery and my increasing chronic pain complicated our unpacking. We uncovered costly problems with our new-to-us, old home. Our senior dog suffered with high-maintenance health issues. And though our new pup brought me great joy, raising a furry ball of energy was far more work than I anticipated. My attitude soured. How was I supposed to have unshakeable faith while traveling on a seemingly endless bumpy road of hardships?
As I prayed, God reminded me of the psalmist who had a lifestyle of praise that didn’t depend on his circumstances. David poured out his emotions, often with great vulnerability, and sought refuge in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:1). Acknowledging God as provider and protector (vv. 5–6), he praised Him and followed His counsel (v. 7). David affirmed that he would “not be shaken” because he kept his eyes “always on the Lord” (v. 8). So, he rejoiced and rested secure in the joy of God’s presence (vv. 9–11).
We too can delight in knowing our peace doesn’t depend on our present situation. As we thank our unchanging God for who He is and always will be—Maker and Sustainer of all—His promised presence will fuel our steadfast faith.