July 31 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 54–56; Romans 3
Priceless Lives in Christ
There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
READ Luke 15:8–10
Tears streamed down my cheeks during a frantic search for my lost wedding and anniversary rings. After an hour of lifting couch cushions and scouring every nook and cranny of our home, Alan said, “I’m sorry. We’ll replace them.”
“Thanks,” I responded. “But their sentimental value surpasses their material worth. They’re irreplaceable.” Praying, I continued hunting for the jewelry. “Please, God. Help me find them.”
Later, while reaching into the pocket of a sweater worn earlier in the week, I found the priceless jewels. “Thank You, Jesus!” I exclaimed. As my husband and I rejoiced, I slipped on the rings and recalled the parable of the woman who lost a coin (Luke 15:8–10). Like the woman who searched for her lost silver coin, I knew the worth of what had been lost. Neither of us was wrong for wanting to find our valuables. Jesus simply used that story to emphasize His desire to save every person He created. One sinner repenting results in a celebration in heaven.
What a gift it would be to become a person who prays as passionately for others as we pray for lost treasures to be found. What a privilege it is to celebrate when someone repents and surrenders their lives to Christ. If we’ve placed our trust in Jesus, we can be thankful we’ve experienced the joy of being loved by Someone who never gave up because He thought we were worth finding.
By Xochitl Dixon
REFLECT & PRAY
Whose salvation will you commit to praying for today? Who can you share your testimony with?
Father, thank You for reminding me that every person You create is a priceless life worth saving.
Jesus’ involvement with the outcasts of society offended the self-righteous Pharisees and the teachers of the law (Matthew 9:10; Luke 7:34; 15:1–2) who saw themselves as the only people deserving of heaven. In response, Jesus taught the three parables found in Luke 15: the lost sheep (vv. 3–7), the lost coin (vv. 8–10), and the lost son (vv. 11–32). All three stories follow a pattern—something is lost, a relentless search is undertaken, and there’s great rejoicing when the lost is found. These paint an unmistakable picture of the persistent and seeking God who relentlessly searches for us until we’re found. In the parable of the lost coin, “ten silver coins” (v. 8) was equivalent to only ten days’ wages for a common laborer, but would constitute a significant portion of the woman’s livelihood, especially if she were poor or a widow. Some scholars suggest the coins were precious because they were part of a dowry, a headband of ten silver coins that signified marital status.
K. T. Sim
July 30 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 51–53; Romans 2
Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.
1 Samuel 18:7
READ 1 Samuel 18:5–9
In the film Amadeus, aging composer Antonio Salieri plays some of his music on the piano for a visiting priest. The embarrassed priest confesses he doesn’t recognize the tunes. “What about this one?” Salieri says, playing an instantly familiar melody. “I didn’t know you wrote that,” the priest says. “I didn’t,” Salieri replies. “That was Mozart!” As viewers discover, Mozart’s success had caused deep envy in Salieri—even leading him to play a part in Mozart’s death.
A song lies at the heart of another envy story. After David’s victory over Goliath, the Israelites heartily sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The comparison doesn’t sit well with King Saul. Envious of David’s success and afraid of losing his throne (vv. 8–9), Saul begins a prolonged pursuit of David, trying to take his life.
Like Salieri with music or Saul with power, we’re usually tempted to envy those with similar but greater gifts than we possess. And whether it’s picking fault with their work or belittling their success, we too can seek to damage our “rivals.”
Saul had been divinely chosen for his task (10:6–7, 24), a status that should’ve fostered security in him rather than envy. Since we each have unique callings too (Ephesians 2:10), maybe the best way to overcome envy is to quit comparing ourselves. Let’s celebrate each other’s successes instead.
By Sheridan Voysey
REFLECT & PRAY
Whom are you most tempted to envy? How can you celebrate their success?
Loving God, I thank You for my friends’ and colleagues’ successes.
The strange mix of emotions found in 1 Samuel 18:5–9 is worth noting. The troops and officers were “pleased” when David’s military success was rewarded with promotion (v. 5), and the homecoming of the army was met with dancing and singing (v. 6). But the emotional atmosphere soon shifted because the song celebrated David’s greatness above Saul’s (v. 7). Internal envy gave way to anger and displeasure (v. 8).
We see biblical warnings against envy throughout Scripture. The book of Proverbs says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (14:30) and “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (27:4). The word translated “envy” in Proverbs 14:30 and “jealousy” in 27:4 is the same Hebrew word. What’s in view are strong feelings of resentment or ill-will because of the actual or perceived advantages of another.
July 29 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 49–50; Romans 1
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
READ Ephesians 2:11–22
A monk named Telemachus lived a quiet life, but his death at the end of the fourth century changed the world. Visiting Rome from the East, Telemachus intervened in the blood sport of the gladiatorial arena. He jumped over the stadium wall and tried to stop the gladiators from killing each other. But the outraged crowd stoned the monk to death. The emperor Honorius, however, was moved by Telemachus’ act and decreed the end of the 500-year practice of gladiator games.
When Paul calls Jesus “our peace,” he refers to the end of hostility between Jews and gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). God’s chosen people Israel were distinct from the nations and enjoyed certain privileges. For instance, while gentiles were allowed to worship at the Jerusalem temple, a dividing wall restricted them to the outer court—on punishment of death. Jews regarded gentiles unclean, and they experienced mutual hostility. But now, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for all, both Jew and gentile can worship God freely through faith in Him (vv. 18–22). There’s no dividing wall. There’s no privilege of one group over the other. Both are equal in their standing before God.
Just as Telemachus brought peace to warriors through his death, so Jesus makes peace and reconciliation possible for all who believe in Him through His death and resurrection. So, if Jesus is our peace, let’s not let our differences divide us. He’s made us one by His blood.
By Con Campbell
REFLECT & PRAY
How do you reveal you’re at peace with all people? What issues—such as race, status, or privilege—sometimes get in the way? Why?
Dear God of peace, You’ve made us one in Jesus. Help me to know it and live it.
In his letter to followers of Jesus in Ephesus, Paul addresses the relationship between Jews and gentiles. While this topic is mentioned in a number of Paul’s New Testament letters, Ephesians 2 deals most explicitly with the topic. He references the hostility the two groups had for each other (vv. 14, 16) and what Christ did to eliminate it. In His death, Jesus set aside the law and made one people out of the two by giving them both the same access to the Father. What we have in common supersedes our differences.
July 28 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 46–48; Acts 28
Love is as strong as death.
Song of Songs 8:6
READ Song of Songs 8:6–7
In 2020, Alyssa Mendoza received a surprising email from her father in the middle of the night. The message had instructions about what to do for her mother on her parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Why was this shocking? Alyssa’s father had passed away ten months earlier. She discovered that he’d written and scheduled the email while he was sick, knowing he might not be there. He’d also arranged and paid for flowers to be sent to his wife for upcoming years on her birthday, future anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.
This story could stand as an example of the kind of love that’s described in detail in Song of Songs. “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave” (8:6). Comparing graves and death to love seems odd, but they’re strong because they don’t give up their captives. However, neither will true love give up the loved one. The book reaches its peak in verses 6–7, describing marital love as one so strong that “many waters cannot quench [it]” (v. 7).
Throughout the Bible, the love of a husband and wife is compared to God’s love (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 21:2). Jesus is the groom and the church is His bride. God showed His love for us by sending Christ to face death so we wouldn’t have to die for our sins (John 3:16). Whether we’re married or single, we can remember that God’s love is stronger than anything we could imagine.
By Julie Schwab
REFLECT & PRAY
How do you feel knowing how much God loves you? What reminds you of His love for you?
Dear Jesus, thank You for loving me so much! Remind me of Your love each day and give me glimpses of it.
Song of Songs is traditionally attributed to Solomon (named in 1:1, 5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11–12). Therefore, this book is also called the Song of Solomon. Of the 1,005 songs composed by him (1 Kings 4:32), this is deemed his best. The New Living Translation begins the book by saying: “This is Solomon’s song of songs, more wonderful than any other” (Song 1:1). The traditional view is that this book is an allegory of Christ’s love for the church. But some interpreters today consider it an anthology of some twenty love poems, celebrating human love within the marital relationship (4:8–5:1). In Song 8:6–7, the bride celebrates her husband’s exclusive and immeasurable love for her. This love “burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (v. 6). The New International Version footnote gives an alternative rendering: “Like the very flame of the Lord ” (which is how the nasb and esv translate it), making this the only mention of God in this book.
K. T. Sim
July 27 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 43–45; Acts 27:27–44
A cheerful heart is good medicine.
READ Proverbs 15:13–15, 30
When Marcia’s out in public, she always tries to smile at others. It’s her way of reaching out to people who might need to see a friendly face. Most of the time, she gets a genuine smile in return. But during a time when Marcia was mandated to wear a facemask, she realized that people could no longer see her mouth, thus no one could see her smile. It’s sad, she thought, but I’m not going to stop. Maybe they’ll see in my eyes that I’m smiling.
There’s actually a bit of science behind that idea. The muscles for the corners of the mouth and the ones that make the eyes crinkle can work in tandem. It’s called a Duchenne smile, and it has been described as “smiling with the eyes.”
Proverbs reminds us that “a cheerful look brings joy to the heart” and “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (15:30 nlt; 17:22). Quite often, the smiles of God’s children stem from the supernatural joy we possess. It’s a gift from God that regularly spills out into our lives, as we encourage people who are carrying heavy burdens or share with those who are looking for answers to life’s questions. Even when we experience suffering, our joy can still shine through.
When life seems dark, choose joy. Let your smile be a window of hope reflecting God’s love and the light of His presence in your life.
By Cindy Hess Kasper
REFLECT & PRAY
What else does the Bible teach us about the joy found in God? How does inner joy contribute to a healthy mind, body, and spirit?
The joy You provide is my strength, dear God. Help me to be a messenger of Your love to others.
Scholars believe the man who compiled most of the proverbs, Solomon, is the same man who wrote the next book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes. Yet the two books seem to contain contradictory messages. Proverbs says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful” (15:13). Ecclesiastes says, “Laughter . . . is madness” (2:2), and “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (7:3). Which is correct?
Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of living for this life only; therefore, it has dark undertones. But Proverbs doesn’t ignore life’s complexities, for it also says, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief” (14:13). There is balance in both books. The proverbs contain sound counsel for living and help us choose the life-affirming path of wisdom. And Ecclesiastes concludes, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (12:13).
July 26 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 40–42; Acts 27:1–26
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
READ John 13:31–35
I wasn’t truthful about the tulips. A gift from my younger daughter, the packaged bulbs traveled home with her to the US from Amsterdam after she visited there. So I made a show of accepting the bulbs with great excitement, as excited as I was to reunite with her. But tulips are my least favorite flower. Many bloom early and fade fast. The July weather, meantime, made it too hot to plant them.
Finally, however, in late September, I planted “my daughter’s” bulbs—thinking of her and thus planting them with love. With each turn of the rocky soil, my concern for the bulbs grew. Giving their plant bed a final pat, I offered the bulbs a blessing, “sleep well,” hoping to see blooming tulips in the spring.
My little project became a humble reminder of God’s call for us to love one another, even if we’re not each other’s “favorites.” Looking past each other’s faulty “weeds,” we’re enabled by God to extend love to others, even in temperamental seasons. Then, over time, mutual love blooms in spite of ourselves. “By this,” Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Pruned by Him, we’re blessed then to bloom, as my tulips did the next spring—on the same weekend my daughter arrived for a short visit. “Look what’s blooming!” I said. Finally, me.
By Patricia Raybon
REFLECT & PRAY
Whom is God asking you to love, even if that person isn’t your “favorite”? What can you do to show that person more of the love of Christ?
Dear Jesus, prune my heart so I can learn to love others in Christ.
John 13:31–35 comes immediately after Judas leaves the scene of the Last Supper to betray Jesus (vv. 26–30). “When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him’ ” (v. 31). The form of the verbs used here indicates that glorification was present and had happened, even though Jesus’ death and resurrection hadn’t yet occurred. This is often referred to as “the prophetic perfect” verb tense, which describes future events so certain to take place that they’re referred to as if they’ve already happened. Throughout the Bible, prophets often stated prophecies this way to indicate the assurance of what would happen. It’s interesting to note that the gospel of John refers to these events differently than do the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The Synoptics refer to Jesus’ death as His humiliation, rather than glorification, but John continually includes the cross as a part of Jesus’ glorification.
July 25 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 37–39; Acts 26
Look up at the sky and count the stars.
READ Genesis 15:1–6
Lara and Dave desperately wanted a baby, but their physician told them they were unable to have one. Lara confided to a friend: “I found myself having some very honest talks with God.” But it was after one of those “talks” that she and Dave spoke to their pastor, who told them about an adoption ministry at their church. A year later they were blessed with an adopted baby boy.
In Genesis 15, the Bible tells of another honest conversation—this one between Abram and God. God had told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am . . . your very great reward” (v. 1). But Abram, uncertain of God’s promises about his future, answered candidly: “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless?” (v. 2).
Earlier God had promised Abram, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (13:16). Now Abram—in a very human moment—reminded God of that. But note God’s response: He assured Abram by telling him to look up and “count the stars—if indeed you can,” indicating his descendants would be beyond numbering (15:5).
How good is God, not only to allow such candid prayer but also to gently reassure Abram! Later, God would change his name to Abraham (“father of many”). Like Abraham, you and I can openly share our hearts with Him and know that we can trust Him to do what’s best for us and others.
By James Banks
REFLECT & PRAY
How do you think Abraham felt when God encouraged Him in such a difficult moment? What candid conversation do you need to have with God today?
Loving heavenly Father, thank You for caring about even the most intimate details of my life. Help me to stay close to You in prayer today.
Abram was in Ur when God called him to go to Canaan (Genesis 15:7; Acts 7:2–4). God promised Abram a new land, numerous descendants, and great blessings (Genesis 12:1–3). At age seventy-five, Abram arrived in Canaan (vv. 4–6). After he parted ways with Lot, God reiterated His promises of property and posterity (13:14–17). Some years later (Abraham was probably in his early eighties, since Ishmael was born when he was eighty-six, 16:16), God incorporated these promises into a formal covenant (15:5–7). Since his wife Sarai was barren, and Abram remained childless, this was an impossible promise (11:30; 15:2). That “Abram believed the Lord , and he credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6) is the first expression of the doctrine of justification by faith in the Bible. Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 to show that even Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; see also James 2:23).
K. T. Sim
July 24 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 35–36; Acts 25
There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.
READ Deuteronomy 1:26–31
In 2019, Hurricane Dorian overwhelmed the islands of the Bahamas with intense rain, wind, and flooding—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. As he sheltered at home with his adult son who has cerebral palsy, Brent knew they needed to leave. Even though Brent is blind, he had to save his son. Tenderly, he placed him over his shoulders and stepped into chin-deep water to carry him to safety.
If an earthly father facing a great obstacle is eager to help his son, think of how much more our heavenly Father is concerned about His children. In the Old Testament, Moses recalled how God carried His people even as they experienced the danger of faltering faith. He reminded the Israelites of how God had delivered them, providing food and water in the desert, fighting against their enemies, and guiding the Israelites with pillars of cloud and fire. Meditating on the many ways God acted on their behalf, Moses said, “There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son” (Deuteronomy 1:31).
The Israelites’ journey through the wilderness wasn’t easy, and their faith waned at times. But it was full of evidence of God’s protection and provision. The image of a father carrying a son—tenderly, courageously, confidently—is a wonderful picture of how God cared for Israel. Even when we face challenges that test our faith, we can remember that God’s there carrying us through them.
By Karen Pimpo
REFLECT & PRAY
In what ways have you seen God’s provision and protection in your life? How can you face difficulties knowing that God carries you tenderly and confidently?
Loving God, help me remember that You carry me, even when I don’t feel it. Thank You for Your strength and compassion.
As the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings were reminded in Deuteronomy 1:26–31—and repeatedly throughout the Bible—God is a forgiving God, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:13; see Psalm 86:15). We first see these words uttered to Moses when He received the second set of stone tablets from God on Mount Sinai after the Israelites rebelled by building a golden calf and worshiping it (Exodus 34:1–7; see chapter 32). Despite their grievous sin, whenever the Israelites, God’s people, repented of their sins and turned back to God, He graciously and lovingly forgave them and brought them back into fellowship with Him.
July 23 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 33–34; Acts 24
We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body.
1 Corinthians 12:13
READ 1 Corinthians 12:12–20
When BBC Music Magazine asked one hundred fifty-one of the world’s leading conductors to list twenty of what they believed to be the greatest symphonies ever written, Beethoven’s Third, Eroica, came out on top. The work, whose title means “heroic,” was written during the turmoil of the French Revolution. But it also came out of Beethoven’s own struggle as he slowly lost his hearing. The music evokes extreme swings of emotion that express what it means to be human and alive while facing challenges. Through wild swings of happiness, sadness, and eventual triumph Beethoven’s Third Symphony is regarded as a timeless tribute to the human spirit.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians deserves our attention for similar reasons. Through inspired words rather than musical scores, it rises in blessing (1:4–9), falls in the sadness of soul-crushing conflict (11:17–22), and rises again in the unison of gifted people working together for one another and for the glory of God (12:6–7).
The difference is that here we see the triumph of our human spirit as a tribute to the Spirit of God. As Paul urges us to experience together the inexpressible love of Christ, he helps us see ourselves as called together by our Father, led by His Son, and inspired by His Spirit—not for noise, but for our contribution to the greatest symphony of all.
By Mart DeHaan
REFLECT & PRAY
Where do you hear the dissonance of conflict in your own life? Where do you see the symphonic harmonies of love?
Father, please enable me to see what I can be with others, with my eyes on Your Son, with reliance on Your Spirit, with a growing awareness of what You can do with a noisemaker like me.
The Greek word ekklēsia, translated “church,” means “an assembly,” a “called-out people” gathered together. The word is used to describe “a people of God” (1 Peter 2:9–10). Paul used many different metaphors to describe the church, including God’s family (Ephesians 2:19; 3:15; 1 Timothy 3:15), God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22–32). But “the body of Christ” is Paul’s favorite (Romans 12:4–5; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 10:17; Ephesians 1:22–23; 4:4, 12; 5:23, 30; Colossians 1:18, 24).
The church at Corinth was a divided congregation. Some believers elevated certain ecstatic gifts (for example, speaking in unknown tongues) above others, believing that unless one possessed these, one wasn’t part of the church. Paul refuted this error in 1 Corinthians 12–14. He used the body metaphor to promote unity and harmony. The church, like the human body, is diverse, but all parts must function as one.
K. T. Sim
July 22 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 31–32; Acts 23:16–35
We will stand in your presence . . . and will cry out to you in our distress.
2 Chronicles 20:9
READ 2 Chronicles 20:5–12, 15
For five years in the late 1800s, grasshoppers descended on Minnesota, destroying the crops. Farmers tried trapping the grasshoppers in tar and burning their fields to kill the eggs. Feeling desperate, and on the brink of starvation, many people sought a statewide day of prayer, yearning to seek God’s help together. The governor relented, setting aside April 26 to pray.
In the days after the collective prayer, the weather warmed and the eggs started to come to life. But then four days later a drop in temperature surprised and delighted many, for the freezing temperatures killed the larvae. Minnesotans once again would harvest their crops of corn, wheat, and oats.
Prayer was also behind the saving of God’s people during the reign of King Jehoshaphat. When the king learned that a vast army was coming against him, he called God’s people to pray and fast. The people reminded God how He’d saved them in times past. And Jehoshaphat said that if calamity came upon them, “whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine,” they would cry out to God knowing that He would hear and save them (2 Chronicles 20:9).
God rescued His people from the invading armies, and He hears us when we cry out to Him in distress. Whatever your concern—whether a relationship issue or something threatening from the natural world—lift it to God in prayer. Nothing is too hard for Him.
By Amy Boucher Pye
REFLECT & PRAY
How has God answered your prayers? What situations in your life or in the world could you commit to Him today?
Creator God, You made the world and all that’s in it. Please restore order and save Your people, whom You love.
The kingdom of Israel was divided after Rehoboam came to the throne and refused to lift the tax burden his father, Solomon, had imposed. Jeroboam, who led the revolt, set up his own kingdom, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, whose capital was Samaria. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, continued to be ruled by the house of David with its capital in Jerusalem. In today’s passage, we read about Jehoshaphat, the fourth king of Judah. In 2 Chronicles 17:3–4, we learn that “the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he . . . sought the God of his father and followed his commands.”