Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is time for Christians to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. Celebrating Advent is one of my favorite things we do a family all year. For ideas on how your family can celebrate Advent this year, take five minutes to watch the video below.
To order your copy of Asheritah Ciuciu’s Advent family devotional, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, click here.
For daily encouragement through Alicia Britt Chloe’s Instagram posts on the book of Luke this Advent season, click here.
Enjoy celebrating this Advent season and preparing your hearts for Christ’s coming! I would love to hear about ideas and traditions you and your family and friends share as well.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine.”
First things first, “Merry Christmas!” What a precious, beautiful, wonderful time of year this is. A time when the whole world takes a breath to pause and remember the Prince of Peace who came and who is coming again one day. We fall on our knees and hear the angel voices from the night divine when deity became flesh and moved in among us.
And amidst all of the holiness and beauty…there is also real life. Real life with four kids under the Christmas tree. Real life wrapping presents until 2am on Christmas Eve, something you promise yourself you will not do again but find yourself doing again every year, running last minute errands to buy gifts for people who bring you a gift and you don’t have a gift for (worst feeling ever), taking sick kids to the doctor who have styes in their eye (who has time for styes or anything other sick thing on planet earth for that matter the week before Christmas), hauling your six year old to her first basketball practice at 8am three days before Christmas (what in the actual heck), trying to get things done but getting nothing done when you have a two-year-old underfoot who sneaks nail polish from her sister’s stash and paints it all over your desk chair in your kitchen, and, of course, icing sugar cookies in your kitchen and destroying your kitchen when you need it to stay clean for the rest of the year.
My six-year-old, Caroline, made this beauty of a cookie:
I was puzzled when I first saw the cookie and asked, “Caroline, that looks like a cross, but what is that on the cross?”
“Jesus. That’s Jesus, mom.”
Right. Not totally sure if I should laugh or cry, I chose the former option and had to wipe away tears I was laughing so hard. Jesus with a mustache on the cross on a sugar cookie. We’re keepin’ it real around here.
And that’s what I love about Christmas. It’s the mix of beautiful moments of mystery when I am caught off guard by the glory and holiness of Immanuel made flesh in all of the sweet fragrance and vulnerability of a newborn and the moments of reality of Jesus with a mustache on a sugar cookie cross made by a kid with a sty in her eye you have to wake up early to get to basketball practice.
This Christmas, more than ever, I have seen that somehow I live in the intertwining of those two moments, and the trick is to learn how to stop when the mystery overtakes me and let it in, let it into my ordinary tasks, routines, problems, short comings, failures, messes, and joys whenever it has the notion to come knocking on my door.
The Sunday before Christmas I was doing the very ordinary task of addressing Christmas cards while keeping one eye on the 60 Minutes show in front of me. The show was highlighting a group of Syrians in Aleppo known as The White Helmets. They are a group of very ordinary men who perform extraordinary feats of courage.
Aleppo is in the center of the Syrian rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and has undergone intense siege and starvation for the past five years. According to 60 Minutes, the past few weeks, the Assad dictatorship has increased their air strikes over Aleppo’s dense neighborhoods. Many times, military targets are not targeted; in fact, the terrifying thing is that nothing is targeted. Barrels of shrapnel and TNT are dropped indiscriminately over any neighborhood the Assad forces do not control. Concrete homes collapse with full families inside, and people’s greatest fear is that they will be buried alive, trapped under the rubble without any hope of digging themselves out. Their fate will be to die by suffocating or bleeding to death under the rubble of their own homes as so many have done before them.
Civilians’ only hope is the Syrian civil defense known as the White Helmets, a self-appointed, all-Syrian volunteer force of rescue workers whose sole purpose is to bring people out of the rubble…alive.
My task of addressing Christmas cards was abandoned as I glued my eyes to the screen in front of me to learn about these extraordinary men. Every time a bomb goes off and a home or building collapses, these men rush to the rescue in their white helmets, taking their very lives into their hands. They have a 50/50 chance of survival, for many times, a second bomb is dropped within minutes after the first, targeting and terrorizing the rescue workers who have come to dig people out of their concrete graves.
Two young rescue workers were interviewed, and I watched as they talked about digging for six to seven hours at a time and then having the indescribable joy of pulling someone thought to be dead out into a second chance at life. They said, “We feel as if we brought that person back to life. The joy is indescribable.”
Over the past five years, it is estimated that the White Helmets have saved close to 70,000 lives, and every time a survivor is pulled out from the rubble, the workers shout their gratitude to their God. Don’t miss this opportunity to watch as a ten-day-old baby is pulled from the rubble after sixteen hours of labor from The White Helmets and given back to a mother who lost her husband and only other child in the destruction of the bomb. Contrary to what the commentator in the clip says, the baby was a boy, not a girl, and the child did survive and is a healthy two-year-old today:
At one point in the 60 Minutes segment, the rescue of a sixteen-year-old boy was highlighted who was completed buried under the weight of his concrete roof except for his shoulder and one part of his arm. Rescue workers dug for hours in order to pull him out, and once they had uncovered his face, you can hear one of the White Helmets asking him, “Brother, can you see our light?”
The purpose of Christmas was redefined for me as I learned about the White Helmets. The coming of Christ to earth showed less like a Hallmark Channel Christmas special and more like a 60 Minutes segment on a White Helmet rescue operation. The baby who was born was born to die under the weight of our sin so that we would have a second chance at life, life resurrected from a shallow grave. And as followers of Christ, every day for us should bear the mark of the intensity and self-abandon with which the White Helmets work. Bombs go off around us continually in the hearts and families of people we love. We, too, are to respond and to dig with little thought for ourselves, all the while asking those who are buried in the dark around us, “Brother, can you see our Light?” The Light of the One who came to die so that we might live.
When asked at the end of the interview if he was afraid of dying or losing his life in the work of rescuing others, one of the young White Helmets replied, “The goal is to save the most people in the least amount of time…But in the end, I’ve left my mark. I’ve left children who are going to live and complete our future.”
What about you, and what about me? Are we living giving great attention to leaving our mark by working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to pull people from death into everlasting life? Are we living in the dark with our light on, asking those around us, “Can you see our light?” Are we experiencing that same joy and victorious celebration every time someone else is pulled out from the rubble, dead in their own sin and circumstances, and given a rebirth because of the One who laid His life down?
The mystery of the rescue mission of the Gospel entered my reality, and I was given a new lens through which to see. Can you?
So how are you and I to receive the gift of Christmas? The White Helmets and my friend Ellery helped me answer this question this year. Watch this video clip of Ellery receiving her Christmas present, and if you are anything like me, you can’t help but watch it…and cry:
When Ellery received her gift, she received it with overwhelming gratitude. She received it with shouts of victory and celebration and great joy. She received it with humble thanks given to parents she knows love her, sacrifice for her, and have overwhelming love in mind for her in the gifts they give.
So like Ellery, let the mystery enter your mundane this Christmas season and draw you into the greatest gift, the greatest joy, and the greatest rescue mission this earth has even seen. No matter your reality, put on the lens of wonder, the lens that lets you see that we are rubble survivors, pulled from a narrow grave when we had no ability to save ourselves. Let receiving that gift be your greatest joy this Christmas season, and again and again throughout the year.
Brothers and sisters, can you see His Light? He has come to dig you out and to give you…great joy.
To watch the full 60 Minutes episode on The White Helmets, click here.
And for more encouragement this week, don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook.
This time of year, I love turning in the pages of my Bible to read the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. Each time, I wonder if the words will sound trite or boring, and each time I am captivated anew.
I was reading in Luke 1 about Zacharias’ response to the angel and it dawned on me afresh, anew, about the way God broke into the world, about how this whole Christmas story began and begins.
Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are barren. The Bible doesn’t give us the specifics, but I can imagine this couple who loved God and loved His people spent years in prayer, asking Yahweh to open Elizabeth’s womb. But her womb remained barren and heaven remained silent.
In fact, heaven had been silent for longer than the totality of Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayers. Heaven had been silent for 400 years. After God spoke through the prophet Malachi in Malachi 4:5-6, saying, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse,” the Word of the Lord was sealed for 400 years. It was sealed through Greece’s triumph over Israel; it was sealed through a pagan pig’s slaughter in the temple’s most holy place; and it was sealed through Roman occupation. God’s people had groaned, and while we know God heard, we also know God was silent. No prophets. No Davidic kings on the throne. No recorded miracles. No answers. Only questions filling the silent spaces.
But God broke the silence by filling the barren space in a womb.
His first response to deliverance was to overcome barrenness.
And don’t you wish you could have seen the look on Elizabeth’s face, one who was “advanced in years,” (Luke 1:7) one who must have had wrinkles in her skin and grey at her temples, when she first discovered that she was pregnant?
The one in her womb was “Elijah the prophet” of whom Malachi spoke before heaven was sealed. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to make a people ready for the coming of the Lord. John’s arrival was the first word spoken to prepare God’s people for the final Word spoken. “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten fro m the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:6-8, 14).
And John’s arrival from a barren womb made a fruitful womb is the precedent for how Christ still comes – He comes into the barren places. He comes into the places where you and I are least expecting it. He comes where the branch has long been withered; He comes where the ground is cracked and dry; He comes where the heart is broken and the desire forgotten; He comes where dreams are forsaken and the soul is aching. He comes.
So if you are looking for a Word this Christmas, look first to the barren place, the place God often comes when He wants to speak. Sometimes He gives a child, sometimes He gives an answer, but He always gives Himself. For the barren place is sacred space God makes for Himself to come.
To prepare the way in your heart this Christmas for the Child who came and the King who is coming, consider praying through the barren places and hurting places in your heart using this prayer guide: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way 2016
And be expectant. Expectant that because God came, He will come again to all the places in our hearts that are aching and longing for life and fruitfulness to grow.
Just ask Elizabeth, the fruitful one.
For more on asking God to fill the barren places, walk through Waiting on the Lord in the new year, and watch and wait expectantly for Christ to come to the places you least expect.
Advent began yesterday. For weeks now, I’ve been hearing its quiet, persistent call and feeling its pulse beneath the earth’s hustle and bustle in preparations for the holidays. Its call is beneath the lights, deeper than the roots of the Christmas trees, quieter than the stillness of my house once all the children are in bed, yet louder through the pages of my Bible than my culture’s cries of consumerism all around me…Prepare the Way…Humble Your Heart…Don’t Miss the Child…Immanuel is coming.
God has been gracious to help me hear Advent’s call early this year and to begin to think and prepare because in years past, Advent was easy to miss. With four children in the house, I have missed Immanuel more than I have held Him. I have followed Christmas’ crazy trail of seasonal to-do’s rather than quieting my heart, examining my heart, and humbling my heart in preparation for Immanuel.
I have spent many more hours on planning, purchasing, and wrapping gifts than I have unwrapping the gift of Immanuel, God with us, that has been given. I have spent much more time preparing for Christmas Day in the grocery stores, my car, the kitchen, and in crowds at parties and shows than I have in letting God, through meditation on Scripture and prayer, prepare my heart.
And it’s really tough, this tug of war that happens each and every year between the call of Immanuel and what is really Christmas and the call of the lights, gifts, and busyness and what my culture has made Christmas that happens all around me. I don’t want to be bah-humbug, but I also don’t want to miss the sign post God has given to reorient my heart towards the One who came and the One who is coming.
The prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before the birth of Christ:
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is the same call each of the Gospel writers attributes to John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. Before Christ came and began His public ministry, God first sent John to “make ready the way of the Lord,” to straighten every path, to humble every exalted place and exalt every humble place. And John did not come crying, “Prepare the way” armed with lights, a Christmas tree, ornaments, and gifts. He came armed with repentance. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
If the church is going to be the church, we have got to rethink the way we prepare the way for Christmas. We have got to get serious about using this season of Advent, this pause and breath of four weeks before remembering the day of Christ’s birth, to prepare the way in our hearts, not just around our tree.
Because here’s the thing: for weeks now, I’ve been looking at the words of Isaiah 2. And this is what verses 5-11 say:
“House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with influences from the east,
And go fortune telling like the Philistines.
And with the children of foreigners they shake hands,
And their land has become full of silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures,
And their land has become full of horses,
And there is no end to their chariots,
And their land has become full of no-gods,
To the work of their hands they bow in worship,
To what their fingers have made!
And humankind is humiliated,
And each individual is demeaned –
Impossible that You should forgive them!
Go into the rock,
and hide yourself in the dust,
because of apprehension of Yahweh,
and from the splendor of His eminence.
Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned
And the cockiness of individuals brought down,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.
(Translation by Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day)
Look at verse 11 once again: “Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned and the cockiness of individuals brought down, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.”
Which means this: you and I can do the hard work of humbling ourselves before the Lord and getting rid of all “the influences of the east,” all of the bargains and treaties we have struck with the systems of this world to give us security, strength, and influence, all of the idols or “no-gods” we have fashioned with our own hands so that we can worship the god we want when we want on our own terms, or we can wait for the sure and certain coming Day of the Lord when He will humble our hearts for us and we will be left in the dust, trembling from the terror of the Lord (v. 10).
Again, I am not trying to be a naysayer here, but church, we must wake up. We must do the serious business of letting the God who came and the God who is coming work in our hearts to bear our sin so that we are not borne away by our sin on the Day when He comes again.
I have a Christmas tree in my house. My stockings are hung and, Lord willing, they will be filled on Christmas morning. Our roof line is strung with lights and two brightly lit angels stand trumpeting on the lawn. My daughter is dancing in the Nutcracker, and I’ve already responded to several Christmas party invitations. But again, here’s what Isaiah 2:11 says, “The proud look of man will be humbled.” The real question is not where your steps are walking this Advent season but where are your eyes looking. What are the aims and interests you have for your family, your children, yourself? Is it to accumulate certain gifts for yourself and your kids? Is it to make sure they don’t miss out on anything and attend every event? Is it to fill their schedules and their palates? Or is it to redirect their eyes? To help them see Immanuel and prepare the way for His entrance in to their hearts?
It will take saying “no” to a few things over the next few weeks. It will take redirecting your steps to make sure the Word is dwelling richly within you with its interests and aims instead of the mall, stores, and culture around you.
But please…please…heed the call to hear the call and prepare the way. As C.S. Lewis writes in his book Until We Have Faces, “Die before you die; there is no chance after.” In other words, do the hard work now of bending the heart and scraping the knee, suffering internally, even, in the here and now, so that your hearts are ready for eternity.
To help us in the process of preparing the way, I’ve come up with seven meditative questions and responses based on Isaiah 2 so that a way can be cleared in the wilderness of our hearts for the coming of Christ. You can use these questions in the mornings or evening to facilitate a prayerful response to Christ throughout the next four weeks. This is not a traditional Advent devotional but something to use to supplement any devotions you might read. These are questions to push us towards repentance, prayer, and preparing our hearts in the way of humbling our hearts before Immanuel for Christmas Day.
I’ve attached the document here: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way. Please consider printing it out and putting it in a spot you will see it often over the next four weeks.
Whatever route you decide to take for Advent this year, please join with me in preparing our hearts. I look forward to taking this journey together.
For more encouragement on Preparing Our Hearts during the Advent season, connect with me on Facebook this week.
Dependent living is a tough concept to grasp, especially in a culture that prides itself on independence. Good grief, one of our country’s most celebrated holidays is July 4th, Independence Day. We literally have a day where we hoist our flags and set off our fireworks in honor of the day we, as a nation, gave dependence a permanent boot and decided we would be our own lords and masters. In America, independence isn’t just a virtue, it’s a way of life.
And those who choose to live dependently are thought to be lacking in character. Sometimes I think the “virtue” of independence is so ingrained in us, we think it a sin or a mark on someone’s character when they choose to live any other way.
So what does an independent, powerful, wealthy nation do with a Savior and King who came to be humble, weak, poor, and dependent?
We must take some time to sit by the manger and ponder the One within. Ponder the One who ruled the Universe with a scepter in His Hand and decided a better place to be was within the confines of a manger, a feeding trough for animals, with His primary caretaker a teenage girl from Nazareth who was poor, persecuted, and and a peasant.
When Jesus described Himself in Matthew 11:29, the only description we have from His own lips about His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (emphasis mine).
The word there in the Greek for humble is taipenos and means “humble, lowly.” The Greek commentator Spiros Zodhiates says this about taipenos and its various forms in the New Testament: “[Taipenos] is the real estimate of ourselves. The sinner is taipenos when he recognizes the sinfulness which is his true condition; the unfallen creature, when merely recognizing that he is a creature; Jesus in His incarnate state, in recognizing His absolute dependence on the Father.”
The author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 2 that “it was fitting for [God], for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings….Therefore, [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:10, 17-18).
Jesus was perfected, or in other words, matured, through suffering, just as we are. It wasn’t that Jesus was imperfect; it was that He was untested. And just like you and me, He had to undergo suffering, hurt, unjust treatment, and pain, in order to be tested, tried, pressed on, pushed down, and, unlike the rest of us who falter and fail under pain and pressure, emerge from every test perfectly.
Why? Because He lived dependently. That is what the word taipenos tells us, and what Jesus tells us about Himself. I think a better translation of Matthew 11:29 reads, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and dependent in heart upon God.”
Every step Jesus took through life, He took dependently. Every test Jesus went through, He went through dependently. Every day He lived, He lived dependently on the Father. Jesus never celebrated an Independence Day. Every day was a Dependent Day for Him.
I can’t tell you how much I have pondered that simple fact over the course of this week. I can’t tell you the freedom that one thought has brought me. So much of my life I attempt to live independently, especially during the Christmas, holiday season. I feel like I have to muster up enough strength each and every day to get it all done on my own – perfectly, rightly, and completely. And every day never lives up to the expectations I have for myself. Something is left undone. Something goes amiss. I fail. My kids fail. My marriage fails. My family members fail.
But this week, in those failing moments, I have crept to the edge of the manger and looked down at the One inside who never lived an independent moment in His life. I have lingered long by this dependent Babe, knowing that He identifies fully with the feelings of my frailty, my imperfections, and my weakness. And He has tutored and taught me this week how, in my moments of weakness, I am to press in in dependence to the One in the manger.
That is all He asks us to do. He does not ask us to figure it out, or carry the burden of a 1000 things on our to-do lists, or be the perfect parents, spouses, family members, friends, or people. But He has asked us to live dependently. To acknowledge our aching need for a Savior who came and lived through every moment, every test, every day, dependently, and empathizes with us, showing us how to do so as well.
So today, don’t feel like you have to pull up your bootstraps and do the next five days, or five weeks, or five years perfectly. Crawl to the manger (maybe that’s all you have the energy to do), look long over the edge, and understand that all you have to do is live this moment, today, the next five days, the next five weeks, the next five years, dependently, leaning on Him, the weak baby in the straw, for all the comfort, hope, mercy, empathy, love and strength He gives.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Take a deep breath, and know that He came so that we might learn to live as people who are…dependent.
The week before Thanksgiving, I wanted to eat lean. My goal was to be on a strict diet of protein, vegetables, fruits, and water, forgoing all desserts and small bites of chocolate I steal like a thief from the pantry once the kids have gone to bed. I wanted to eat gluten-free, guilt-free, carb-free Sunday through Thursday morning of that last week of November. Why?
Because I wanted to enjoy The Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday afternoon.
I wanted to savor every morsel of my aunt’s cornbread dressing, marshmellow-melted sweet potatoes, and vinegar-marinated green beans. I wanted to go back for seconds on my mom’s stuffed turkey, Sister Schubert rolls, homemade pumpkin and apple pies, topped with her own whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon. I wanted to eat, and eat, and go back to the buffet line and eat again, without having one ounce of guilt or remorse for stuffing my face with all of the goodness before me.
I “fasted” the week before Thanksgiving because I wanted to thoroughly enjoy the feast of Thanksgiving…and because a sure way to ruin any appetite for any feast is to stuff your face along the way. To eat a whole pbj with potato chips at noon when the feast is set for 4pm. To eat bad, poorly made desserts every night of the week before the feast so you are too guilt-ridden to enjoy the real thing when it is set at the table before you.
Today begins the true countdown until Christmas. Only ten more days until all the cards are mailed, all the presents bought and wrapped, all the parties attended, all of the cookies baked. Only ten more days to prepare our hearts for the Feast of Christmas Day when we peer over the edge of the manger and marvel at the mystery of the one who resides there.
But let me warn you: you and I will not enjoy the Feast of Christmas if we eat whatever we want over these next ten days. If I stuff myself on my to-do lists, my parties, my home, my cards, my gifts, my wrapping, my menus, my own personally mandated lists of perfection and exhaustion…I will miss the Babe in the Manger and will not even have an appetite for Him when it comes to Christmas Day.
A very wise friend of mine says, “In the physical realm, we eat to get full. But in the spiritual realm, we eat to get hungry.”
If you want to be hungry for Jesus, for Emmanuel, for the Prince of Peace, this Christmas Season, you must eat of Him every day in order to be hungry for Him on the day that counts. And to eat of Him every day over the next ten days, you and I are going to have to refrain from eating everything else. Something – all you moms, aunts, teachers, businesswomen, friends, grandmothers – is going to have to be left untouched and uneaten and undone so we still have an appetite for Jesus.
And let me tell you, I am preaching to myself more than I am preaching to anyone else. I am already knee deep in weariness and exhaustion and can feel my appetite actively waning for the things of the Spirit, for the only thing that really counts, that is really worth eating on the Christmas Table.
So to combat my waning taste for the things that really count, I have been actively praying for the past two weeks, a list of things I found on John Piper’s website, www.desiringgod.org, to help my hunger for Jesus.
How to Pray for the Soul –
1. The first thing my soul needs is an inclination to God and His Word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read His Word and draw near to Him. Where does that “want to” come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to gain.”
2. Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened, so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”
3. Then I need for my heat to be enlightened with those “wonders.” I need to perceive glory in them and not just interesting facts. Who enlightens the heart? God does. So Ephesians 1:18 teaches us to pray “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (i.e. pray that we would be fascinated by God’s Word and His Glory)
4. Then I am concerned that my heart is fragmented and that parts of it might remain in the dark while others parts are enlightened. So I long for my heart to be united for God. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? From God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, “O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your Name.” (See too Mark 4:19 – that the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things would not enter in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.)
5. What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of His Spirit in answer to my prayers is that my heart will be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, “O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
6. But I don’t just want to be happy in my own little private world with God. I want my happiness to be as full as possible for spreading and expanding for others. I want to be strong in joy. This will make me durable in the face of threats or adversity. Where does that strength and durability come from? It comes from God. So Ephesians 3:16-17 teaches us to pray, “That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hears through faith, and that you would be rooted and grounded in love…”
7. Finally, I want my strength in Christ to produce good deeds for others so that the glory of God will be seen in my life. Who produces these good deeds? God does. So Colossians 1:10 teaches us to pray, “That [we] will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
All this I pray “in Jesus’ Name,” because God gives these things to my soul only because Jesus died for me and removed the wrath of God so that the Father might “freely give me all things” (Romans 8:32).
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of things we can ask for from God and not be sure we are going to get a resounding “Yes!” But all seven of the things on the list above are things that if we pray, we can be CONFIDENT God not only wants to answer, but will answer, with a resounding YES. For they are all things that if we ask in Jesus’ Name, He loves to give.
I’m not sure what’s on your to-do list over the next ten days; I know the things on mine are enough to keep me busy for the next ten months, much less ten days. And many of them probably will not get done. But at the top of my list is to walk through the next ten days with a hunger and a heart for Jesus, as I forgo the junk food for the feast that awaits.
Only you know what exactly ruins your appetite for the feast of Jesus when push comes to shove, but I can tell you one thing: if you and I will eat of the bread of His Word and the Water of Presence consistently and thoroughly throughout the next ten days, we will be ready for the One we are readying to welcome into our hearts and homes on Christmas Day. We will be ready to eat at His Table, guilty no more.
So pull up a chair to the table; the Babe is waiting:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.“ Isaiah 55:1-3
It’s just Caroline and me this weekend. Jason took the two older girls hunting and was over the moon about the thought of Lillian having the opportunity to shoot her first deer.
I talked to the hunters briefly earlier today, and when I asked Lillian what she had been up to, she said, “Feeding cows and shooting guns.” Hmmm…I guess that adds up to a great weekend in Texas.
Caroline and I, on the other hand, have been watching movies and eating dessert (thank you, Melissa). In between servings, I decided to go for a jog and push Caroline in the stroller. I bribed her with a trip to the neighborhood park at the end.
Halfway through our run, we passed by a house that had a nativity set up in the front yard. Caroline shouted, “Stop, Mommmy, stop! I want to see baby Jesus!”
What self-respecting mom says no to that request?! So out she popped and ran up in a stranger’s yard to peer at the babe in the manger.
And I thought perhaps Caroline’s command was appropriate for all of us today: “Stop! Whatever you are doing – shooting guns, feeding cows, running around and getting ready for Christmas, suffering, hurting, rejoicing, relaxing, playing – stop! And look at Baby Jesus.” Because He’s easy to miss this time of year. I am in daily danger of running right past the nativity on my route to Christmas, and I needed the reminder to stop.
So today, take time to look at Jesus. He is worth the stop. Just ask Caroline.
For the past two years, two angels have hovered above the dirt in our front pillar pot, announcing tidings of Joy and Peace to all passer-bys. But the two have always bothered me. Probably because I have three girls, and hey, let’s face it, girls care about this sort of thing. Three girls equals three angels in the pot, not two.
So this year I did my due diligence and ordered a third angel to stick in our pot, and Wednesday afternoon, Hope arrived. As I trooped back inside with Caroline in tow from adding Hope’s glad tidings to the other two, the significance of what I had done hit me. This Christmas, I added Hope. Stuck her in the pot. Dug her post down in the dirt. And allowed her to proclaim her glad tidings along with the other two. In the past several months, with news of job loss, news of cancer, news of death, and news of despair, Hope seemed a necessary addition to the entrance to our Home this year. She added a concrete reminder that the Hope of Immanuel’s coming trumps the arrival of anything else. Hope that because Jesus came, His Presence ushered in all that is real, all that is sacred, all that is worth fighting for, standing for, waiting for, believing for, and yes, even dying for.
I opened up an email this morning from a dear friend who is an advocate for women in persecuted places all over the world and watched a video from a link in the email. I wept through most of the it as I watched a young woman give her testimony of Hope. Hope that comes only when the Person of Jesus steps into your room, your cell, your home, your life. If you have a moment, click on the link and watch the video for yourself: http://www.bethel.tv/watch/1933/christinas-story/2013/12/07?session=897
But more importantly, invite Hope in this morning, this weekend, this week, this year. Stick her in your front pot. Hang her from your Christmas tree. Herald her news wherever you go in your words, your action, and your focus. Not only has Hope come, not only is Hope here in the present in the hearts of those who believe in the babe in the manger, but Hope is coming for all those who bend their hearts and their knees to King Jesus. Don’t waste any more time on despair. Plant the seeds of Hope that will today and one day bring an eternal harvest of Joy and Peace in the living Presence of our King.