God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”
When I read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, my soul ignites with the hope of Jesus Christ. I feel a connection to King as a brother in the faith, and I wonder what it would be like to sit with him, talking about his life, faith, and how he lived out God’s call on his life in his generation.
I can envision King’s smile and the kindness in his eyes, along with the fiery passion in his spirit, and it makes me yearn for such an encounter. Maybe one day in heaven I will be able to talk face-to-face with the man who has so greatly inspired me. But for now, I can soak in his timeless words and let them bring life to my own spiritual journey with Christ.
Indeed, what a blessing it has been to reflect on the writings of King over the past few years–to learn from this man who changed the trajectory of our nation and brought desperately needed hope to its people.
This year as Martin Luther King Day approached, I knew I wanted to honor King by inspiring others with his hope. To do so, I have gathered some of my favorite quotes from four of his works: “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” “A Knock at Midnight,” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” My goal is to share his hope with you and express how it has impacted me too.
I pray his words will inspire you, just as they have inspired me.
#1 The Bread of Hope
“But even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Knock at Midnight”
Have you encountered someone who seems lost and without hope? Have you yourself been that person? I must admit–I have been there. And through that experience, I have come to understand, as King so eloquently states, that what we all long for is the “bread of hope,” something that fills up our lonely, empty condition with something that is real and lasting.
We often try to fill ourselves up with a thousand different things. But each time we are left hungry, searching for more. However, this is not true with the bread of hope. Jesus Christ himself is the bread–and he alone is our hope. When we accept him as the key to life, we are no longer alone and hopeless. Instead, we are alive and hopeful, for we have found the unending love and eternal security that we have always longed for.
#2 Our Hope in the Storm
“When through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”
When I first read these words of King’s, they gripped my heart with a sweet sadness, transporting me back to that far off country that I had traveled through in my own “folly and sin.” What a desolate and lonely place it is–to be lost in the consequences of our sin. Yet what great joy we find when we realize that God loves us in spite of ourselves! He stands ready to take us by the hand and lead us back home, offering us a second chance when no one else would.
This is the heart of the gospel, isn’t it? God taking wayward, lost sinners and leading them home. As Luke 19:10 states, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” and he is still doing that work today. As a preacher and a child of God, I am sure King experienced that same hand of God, leading him back home when the world tempted him away. How thankful I am that King held tightly to the hand of God throughout his life to bring the peace, love, and justice of God to those who needed it most in his day–and to us who have the privilege of reading his timeless words today.
#3 The God Who Suffers with Us
“[God] does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”
I once thought that when I found Jesus, I would no longer struggle or have pain, but I realize now that just because I am a believer, I am not exempt to the struggles of this life. We all live in this fallen world, and we will experience painful difficulties–some that will simply bring us to our knees.
However, the sweet comfort of walking with Jesus is that he “seeks us in dark places and suffers with us.” He is not a distant God who leaves us alone in our suffering. Instead, he comes along beside us, wraps us in his arms, and whispers to us: “I love you with an everlasting love!” (Jeremiah 31:3).
When worry for a loved one consumes you and nearly breaks your heart, ask God to wrap you in his everlasting love. When your marriage seems to be falling apart and you’re about to lose hope, know that God is right beside you, telling you not to give up–for absolutely nothing is too hard for him! (Jeremiah 32:27).
In the face of suffering, let God walk right beside you, just as King did. If King trusted Christ when he faced endless discrimination, persecution, and hate, you too can trust him with the circumstances of your life.
#4 A God of Justice
“At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice. When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the Earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”
Often life seems unfair–both in our personal lives and in our nation and world. We work ourselves up into a panicked frenzy–frantically worried that things are getting out of control. We see injustices taking place right before our eyes and we desperately feel the need to do something to make it right.
Most certainly, God wants us to work for good. But he also wants us to remember he is in control. He alone has the ability to cut down the “slumbering giants of injustice.” He can take the most vicious forces of evil in this world and cut them down without any effort at all.
In King’s day, he faced some of the greatest “giants of injustice” that America had ever seen. Yet he was confident that even if he didn’t accomplish every goal or break through every area of injustice, he had a God who could do it in his own perfect power and timing. What comfort King must have found knowing that absolutely nothing was too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27)!
#5 The Hope of Love and Brotherhood
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from BIrmingham Jail”
One of the things I love most about King’s writing is the idealistic beauty he envisioned for America when the perfect love and peace of Jesus would erase the injustices of this world. With unwavering hope, King never gave up on his dream that all people would be treated equally and with respect. He believed that “the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation.”
When I read these eloquent, inspiring words, I want to jump up and shout, “Amen!” I want to join King in praying for these goals for our nation, especially now, in a time where division and unrest seem to dominate. We can learn so much from King about keeping our eyes focused on the goodness of God and its ability to change our world. We will not see perfection until Jesus himself reigns. But we can get closer to it by living out our faith in a way that respects all persons and honors our Lord.
I join King in his prayer, asking God to guide us to the place where “the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities.” May God’s will be done!
#6 A God Who Moves Mountains
“We have moved all of these months,” I said, “in the daring faith that God is with us in our struggle. The many experiences of days gone by have vindicated that faith in a marvelous way. Tonight we must believe that a way will be made out of no way.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Knock at Midnight”
These words were spoken by King at a hearing related to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, which lasted 381 days. Can you imagine participating in a boycott that daily affected your ability to get to work and home again…for over a year? This was no simple boycott of a store or a product. Participating in this boycott meant getting up an hour earlier to walk to work, no matter the weather. Some participants organized carpools to help each other in their time of need. Almost all black workers at the time used the city buses to get to work, so boycotting buses was truly a sacrifice.
The boycott experience was filled with sacrifice and hardship. But as King states, they were moving “in the daring faith that God is with us in our struggle.” After over a year of perseverance, it seemed as if the day of redemption would never come. But by God’s power and grace–and by the faith of the people who believed–the people saw a miracle! The bus boycott finally ended–and segregated bussing was declared unlawful. The light of God’s hope shone upon his people, and they were first hand witnesses to the faithfulness of their Lord.
Today, what odds are you facing that seem insurmountable? Do you feel there is no way out? Keep persevering in the Lord. God works in his own timing, but with faith in him, you will soon see his goodness in the midst of your circumstances.
#7 Faith in the Goodness of God
Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Knock at Midnight”
Many people struggle with the contradictions of life; I know I do. We question why terrible things have to happen–why there has to be so much suffering, if God is so good. But King had come to understand one very important thing: that no matter the contradictions he saw in life, they are “neither final nor ultimate.” Daily King saw the workings of both evil and good, but he had peace because he knew that “all things work together for good for those that love God.” He didn’t have to figure out all of God’s plans because he knew God was trustworthy–and that made all the difference in his life.
In your own life, where do you need to trust in the goodness of God? What circumstances in your life appear to contradict that goodness? Let King be an inspiration to you, as he has been to me, in letting go of our need to have all the answers. Instead trust in the goodness of God. For if God so loved us that he sent his son to die for us and give us eternal life, then why should we question his goodness now? We may not understand how God works, but as King states, “Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.”
#8 No Fear of Death or Man
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Many consider these words of King to be prophetic of his own death, which occurred the very next day at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. I wonder, did King realize that the end of his earthly life was near? Had God given him a special sense of peace that He was with him–through life or death?
What confidence these words of King stir in my soul! His words exhibit the kind of peace that only Christ can bring–a peace the whole world is searching for, but never can find apart from Christ. This peace brings contentment with whatever life gives us. For we know that God is in control and He is working everything for our good and his glory.
May God help us to keep our eyes on what really matters: the will of God. May He keep our eyes off everything that does not matter–such as the desire for our own personal glory and the meaningless things this world values as important. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, as King did, and live a life of purpose for the glory of God.
Through the power of surrendering to Christ and trusting in him, we can find a peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And there is no better way to live.
Keep the Torch Burning
I am so thankful for the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., who still calls out to us today to keep the torch for Christ burning brightly–to release people from oppression and injustice, and to show mercy and grace to those we meet.
King walked in the pathway of love, never in hate. He knew that God would work wonders, if he tried to love as God did on this earth. He remembered the values of Christ and who He was sent to save when He came to this earth:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.
The Hope of Jesus
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a sinner saved by grace, just like you and me. But I believe that he tried to emulate Christ to those around him and walk in the way of Jesus, bringing light and hope to those in the darkness–to preach the gospel to the lost and weary, so they could be found in Jesus Christ.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.”