Editor’s Note: Each week, we’re publishing a new collection of devotional readings that will draw you deeper into the life-changing Word of God. This week, Bianca Juarez Olthoff expands upon upon themes from her new book, Play with Fire , inviting you to reflect on five spiritual choices that are crucial to spiritual transformation. (Click here to receive these and future daily devotions emailed directly to your inbox.)
“I cry out to the Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2)
During the lowest point in my life, I wrestled with a common theological question: If God knows all—including my heart and mind—why do I have to pray? And here’s what I’ve found: Yes, God knows our hearts and hears the faintest whisper for help rising from the deepest places in our spirits. But when we’re desperate enough to cry out, we are humbled. And when we’re humbled enough, something happens: God responds with saving power.
We see this over and over again in Scripture. The children of Israel cried out to be free from bondage and the Lord rescued them (Exodus 3:7). David cried out for healing and God spared his life (Psalm 30:2). Later, in a moment of desperate need, David fled from Saul to a cave and penned a psalm, believing he would be vindicated after crying out to God (Psalm 57:2).
Several Hebrew words describe crying out, but one specific verb, qara, connotes the action of calling or crying out loud. Qara is used in Jeremiah 33:3 (translated as “ask” or “call”) when the Lord says, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” God promises to give wisdom to his people in times of perplexity and confusion. God’s promise to Jeremiah all those years ago is true for us today. The Creator of the universe wants an intimate, loving relationship with the people he created. A vital component of our relationship is voicing aloud our need for him.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?’” (Matthew 16:24–26)
Surrender is a hard word. We want to trust God and let him do what he deems best, but we often have our caveats, like “God I want to serve you, but please don’t let [fill in the blank] happen,” or “God I want to serve you anywhere . . . except [fill in the blank].”
Moses was a bit like that. When God told Moses to free the Israelites from slavery, Moses questioned God (see Exodus 3). Moses had many doubts and many fears; he came up with many excuses. But then God asked Moses for what was in his hand:
Then the Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
“Throw it down on the ground,” the Lord told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back. (Exodus 4:2–3)
God used that staff to demonstrate his miraculous power to Moses. But consider the moment before the miracle, when God first asked Moses to lay it down. What did the staff represent to Moses? His identity as a shepherd, his income as a business owner, and his influence as a man in his community.
Like Moses, we may have fears and excuses. We, too, we must be willing to lay down our income, lay down our status, lay down our perfectionism, lay down our finances, lay down our children, lay down our relationships, lay down our self-pursuits. When Jesus asks us to pick up our cross and follow him, it’s a call to lay down our desires and pick up his.
“Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
We all face difficult moments—the loss of a loved one, the pain of a broken dream, or the mourning of a shattered heart. When we do, we need to put one foot in front of the other and believe God will lead us to the place we need to be. But where is that place? What is that place?
As Christians, our hope is that we will make it through the desert wilderness. We can’t see the end, but just as God has brought through those who have gone before us, we must believe he is able to do the same for us. We must hold on to his promises. He will lead us. He will guide us. He will provide for us. He will refine us. He will give us what we need in the midst of our confusion or suffering.
The Bible is full of promises. There are general promises that speak to the body of believers as well as examples of specific promises given to believers who came before us. What are God’s promises to you? God isn’t speaking in Morse code, communicating in confusing ways you have to work hard to discern. His Word is right there before you. It is “alive and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12) and God will speak through the pages of Scripture. You can fully embrace and rely on the truth you find there.
On your desert journey, you will be tempted to forget or question God’s promises. In those moments, trust this reality: The Lord may delay fulfilling his promises, but he will never deny them.
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’” (Daniel 3:16–18)
It’s been said, “Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” In Daniel 3, we see an extraordinary group of friends survive both a literal and figurative fire of faith. Their friendship and its impact on their lives can teach us a lot about community.
When faced with certain death, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego together made a decision to honor the one true God. I’d like to think that each of them, as individuals, would have objected to Nebuchadnezzar’s order even if it meant standing alone. But what we see in Scripture is that they stood together as a band of brothers—a community of friends who would not bow to any other god.
In a previous chapter (Daniel 1), these young men had committed together to not compromise who they were, who they were called to be, or who they served. Like they did, when you know you are and you know who you serve, it changes everything. This is what community will help you do.
Daniel 3:27 tells us that, miraculously, the men survived the fiery furnace and ultimately God was glorified. When we face trials, our community of faith can remind us that what looks like impending death or utter despair might actually be the beginning of a rescue, a demonstration of resurrection, or the impetus for revival. In community, we can survive the fires of transformation. Not only that, but our faith will be strengthened as we see God show up in the lives of others.
“He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’” (Matthew 26:39)
One of the most poignant scenes in the life of Christ occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane. We see the fullness of Jesus’ humanity as he cries out to his Father and asks if there is a different way, a way to save the world without sacrificing his life on the cross. He calls out to His Father not once, not twice, but three times. He prays, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39).
Kneeling on the ground, face pressed into the dirt, Jesus prayed. In our own moments of crisis or pressure, is our natural reaction to fall to our knees in prayer? My natural reaction is often to run away from the fiery furnaces, to try to speed through the deserts. I fill the silence with noise. But the greatest lesson in this scene is Christ’s willingness to endure what is to come if it is the will of his Father.
The last days of Jesus’ life demonstrate the beauty of the transformation that occurs when we submit to the will of God. He cried out to God (Mark 14:35). He surrendered his will (Matthew 26:42). He believed the promise that his death would bring us life (Psalm 22). He asked his community to be with him in the midst of trial (Matthew 26:46). He submitted to God’s will, even on the cross and, three days later, he rose from the dead (Mark 15:34; 16:6). May we, too, be people who cry out, who surrender, who believe God’s promises, who rely on our community, and fully submit to God’s will.
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