Maria Fontaine is the spiritual and administrative co-director (along with her husband, Peter Amsterdam) of the Family International, a Christian community of faith dedicated to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. She is the author of numerous articles on the Christian faith life. (Articles by Maria Fontaine used in Activated are adapted.)
It was my birthday and I was returning a phone call from one of my relatives, but to my surprise, I didn’t recognize the voice that answered. The woman on the other end sounded groggy and weak, as though she was sick or had just woken up, or for some reason seemed to barely have the energy to respond. “No, you must have the wrong number. There’s no one here by that name.”
If I were to ask you to describe Jesus’ ministry to people, what would you say? It’s an important question, because He’s called us to be His representatives in this world, and we need to consider how we can best reflect His love as we follow in His footsteps.
Have you ever experienced some particular problem or pain that surprised you by how debilitating it was? Perhaps it was a sore toe or an earache that outwardly seemed small, but it made your day a major struggle. Then along comes someone who says, “I get infections in my ear all the time, and it’s uncomfortable but I don’t let it bother me. You just need to stay positive and keep going.” Well, though we do need to strive to “give thanks in all circumstances,”1 trying to keep your head above water may be difficult for you at these times.
There is a story, versions of which can be found on several websites, about the world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. It illustrates a beautiful principle about God’s grace and power, how He can take whatever we have to offer Him in this life and make it into something beautiful. I’d like to recount it for you.
There are many things we can celebrate at Christmas, the most essential being the gift of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. To paraphrase a beautiful promise in the book of Daniel, the closer we grow to Him, the more His wisdom will “shine as the brightness of the firmament in us,” and His righteousness through us “as the stars forever and ever.”1 Remembering to pause and take those moments to acknowledge Him allows His Spirit to flow freely in our lives and replaces the stress and strain that bottles up our joy. All we have to do is let that peace flow in, and He goes to work helping it shine out to others.
Since turning 70, I’ve been thinking more about the benefits of aging. Even though many of us who are getting older have already felt some of the disadvantages or difficulties, there are also many good things to be found in this stage of our lives. I want to explore a few of these with you by sharing some of my own thoughts and experiences. Of course, you may not be at the stage in life where these things apply to you personally, but you may be interested for the sake of elderly family members or friends.
As believers, we can sometimes have unrealistic expectations about our lives. When things aren’t going smoothly, there’s a tendency to beat ourselves up about it, or feel that God isn’t answering our prayers because He doesn’t care enough or because we’re doing something wrong.
There are many instances when we pray for people and they are healed immediately or within a short time. But we also experience situations where we pray for some very serious afflictions repeatedly over months and even years, and still don’t see the results we’ve asked for. We could then be tempted to wonder what has happened. Has something gone wrong?
Did you know that parking lots at midnight can be very romantic? I’m talking about the romance I experienced with Jesus while walking in a parking lot.
I needed to get some daily exercise and I only had two options: either go to the air-conditioned gym or walk in the warm outdoors. Since I get cold easily, I chose walking outside in the heat. However, I found that even for me, there’s a limit to the heat I can take. So since it was a very hot time of year, I had to wait until it was cooler outdoors—which turned out to be close to midnight.
I don’t think that God intended any relationships to be perfect. I think of it as the “thorn” factor that He allows into the equation—that element that we shrink from, but that He knows we need. You may wonder, Why would we need differences of opinion, sensitivities, misunderstandings, jealousies, resentments, comparing, sacrificing, arguments, emotional upsets, fears, heartbreaks, and adversity? Those things don’t sound like they would build a very strong relationship.