Continued from here.
I hope you have found this series helpful and are determined to live like a child of God during this busy season rather than blend in with the World. We cannot allow society to drive our choices. We don’t have to participate in rampant consumerism and cheapen the celebration of Jesus’ birth to an occasion to sell merchandise. We can choose to focus on the amazing blessing of Jesus coming to earth to reconcile us to God. Don’t allow the pressures and busyness of the Christmas season to take your focus off your relationship with God.
Remembering the sacrifice Jesus made should draw us closer to God, not place a wedge between Him and us as we race through this season to get everything done. The best gift you can give Jesus in gratitude for his coming is to spend more time with him because that was the point of Jesus coming to earth – to reconcile us to God so we could be in relationship with Him. Thanks to Jesus, we can now approach God with freedom and confidence, something that was not possible before Jesus’ sacrifice. Let’s not cheapen this amazing gift by placing our focus on commercialism and racing around. Instead, let’s spend even more time in intimate fellowship with God, enjoying the amazing gift of being able to enter His presence, thanks to Jesus coming to earth.
It all comes down to choice. Each of us chooses how we spend our time. What a travesty to choose doing things allegedly for God without actually spending any time with God. If we really want to show our gratitude for Jesus’ birth, we can do this best by setting aside daily time for close, intimate fellowship God. That was the point of Jesus coming in the first place.
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and throwing up her hands behind an infinity sign that says, “I love you x Infinity +1.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
I previously shared that I am vulnerable to holiday depression. In my case, the root cause is the child abuse I suffered during the Christmas break from family “friends” who had more access to me while school was not in session. I have tried unsuccessfully to navigate the holiday waters for decades, but this year has been different because I have been doing things differently.
One change that has helped (which I have been doing for several years) is to be more vigilant about what I allow myself to take in during seasons of vulnerability. As an example, I am particularly vulnerable to melancholy tunes. It’s easy for me to allow myself to be swept away by the music and plunge into an emotional “hell well” that I have trouble climbing back out of until the holidays are over. Once I realized this about myself, I made the decision to immediately remove myself from listening to songs with melancholy tunes, even those by Christian artists. Some Christian songs have a wonderful message but a melancholy tune, and I know I’m not strong enough to listen to them – so I turn them off or flee the premises.
Another change is to fill up more with God. During seasons of vulnerability, I’m tempted to spend less time with God, which means I need Him even more. I have been actively praying for God to show me the way out when I am tempted to slip into depression, and I have been taking those ways out as God presents them to me.
The closest I have come this holiday season to slipping into depression happened over Thanksgiving weekend. God called to mind an impassioned speech I had given a close friend a few weeks before and had me give myself the same exhortation. Here’s how it went:
Do you believe that God is bigger than your problems? You are going to act upon what you believe, not what you know. It’s easy to believe God when everything is going your way. It’s a whole different story to believe Him when things are falling apart. This is the moment that defines who you are and what you believe. This is when you show God the core of who you are. If you really believe what you say you believe, then you will behave as someone who trusts God.”
I then prayed for God to show me how to behave as if I trust Him, asked for forgiveness for my unbelief, and asked God to help me overcome my unbelief … and He did!
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking sad and shedding a tear. Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
At no other time of year do I see so many indicators of impatience when I am out and about. I never hear so many cars blaring their horns or see so many cars racing through parking lots, often as they are speeding down the rows going in the wrong direction. People are racing through the stores with tense looks on their faces as they navigate through the crowds. I see tapping feet and multiple checks of the watch while people impatiently wait in long lines. While the Christmas songs speak of the joys of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, joy is not the word I would use to describe the attitudes I see in the local stores at this time of year.
Patience is one of the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible frequently admonishes God’s people to be patient. When we participate in blaring our horns, racing through parking lots, and bowling other shoppers over in our race to the checkout line, we are not exhibiting the Christian walk. Our attitudes need to be different from the World’s.
Learning patience did not come easily to me. I actually prayed for patience, which I recommend against doing unless you are prepared to wait a lot. After all, how can someone develop patience without having to wait? God is patient, as was Jesus during his time on this earth. If you call yourself a Christian, you need to develop the fruit of patience.
The antidote to impatience is actively extending grace, which happens as you practice humility. (This does not come easily to me, either.) Remember that every person you interact with in a crowded store is someone Jesus loves enough to die for. Thus, you also need to extend love to that person, even when she’s counting out pennies to pay for her purchase with 10 people impatiently waiting in line behind her. Rather than thinking about what you would like to do with that penny jar, pray for God to help you see this person through His eyes. Be the one person in line who smiles rather than glares at her. Communicate through your body language that she is loved rather than an annoyance.
This is a situation where I find it helpful to have memorized large passages of Scripture. As I recite Scripture in my head, I find it easier to extend grace. I also find it easier when I meditate on a Christian song. Get your focus off yourself and the bottleneck in front of you and, instead, place it on God, where it belongs.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her hip by an hour glass, saying, “I’m Waiting.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
Another prevalent attitude I have notice at this time of year is that most people seem to be in a rush. They are racing from here to there as they shop, attending Christmas parties, and make preparations for the upcoming holiday on top of their already overfilled busy lives. This is not the lifestyle that God has called us to. Just because society has mainstreamed racing from here to there does not mean God’s children should live that way.
God calls us to rest, which is why He commanded His people to take a weekly Sabbath. He knows our propensity to work harder … and faster … and harder … and faster … until our lives become one big blur of trying to get things done. As we do this, we lose sight of the things that really matter – worshiping our God and loving one another. How can I possibly invest time in loving you when my priority is getting 20 things done in the next two hours?
The late Dallas Willard’s answer to how to deepen your relationship with God is to…
Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” ~ Dallas Willard
How ironic that at the time of year in which we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Lord, we are actually at the most vulnerable for strangling our spiritual lives because we are too busy hurrying to get things done to take time to worship God and love others.
Don’t tell me you are too busy to spend time with God. At this time of year, you are actually too busy not to spend time with God. It is precisely because you are so busy that you need the discipline of slowing down and praying so you can maintain your focus on God. Don’t let society pull you into the stream of business. Refuse to hurry, and prioritize your prayer life and Sabbath rest. As Bill Hybels says, you are too busy not to pray!
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cover of Too Busy Not to Pray. Courtesy Amazon.]
I have shared before that the Christmas season is not my favorite time of year. Because of my childhood abuse, the holiday season, from Halloween through Christmas, is filled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggers for me. By this time of year, I have typically been in a holiday depression/funk that keeps me too self-absorbed to notice what is going on around me. Thanks to the grace of God and His mighty power, I have not sunk into that funk this year … perhaps for the first time in my life!
Because I have not been in a self-absorbed funk, I have been able to pay attention, for the first time, to people’s attitudes and behaviors during this “most wonderful time of the year.” I would hardly use the words “most wonderful” to describe what I am seeing. I’d like to focus on a few of the attitudes I have noticed to encourage you to take an inventory of yourself and, if you see these growing in you, to take proactive steps to align your attitude with God’s will for you. He did not send Jesus to sell billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise and heap mounds of stress onto people. Don’t let society suck you into taking your eyes off God during this busy time of the year.
One prevalent attitude I have noticed is an increased amount of envy. While I know envy is something that most people wrestle with from time to time, it seems to be out in spades at this time of year as people compare their own personal circumstances (whether financial, relational, or otherwise) with even their closest friends!
Do not covet is one of the Ten Commandments for a reason – coveting keeps our minds focused on stuff rather than on God. Nothing that you can see, whether it’s material possessions or relationships, lasts forever. The stock market can crash, and even the most loving and dedicated marriages end when one spouse dies. Only your relationship with God is everlasting, and it’s yours for the asking, regardless of how close anyone else is to God.
My prayer is that if anyone wants to envy me, he or she will envy my relationship with God because that’s all I have of eternal value, and it’s what I deserve the least. I am not close with God because I earned it – it’s due to the incomparable riches of His grace. There’s no reason to be jealous because God wants a close relationship with you as well. It’s yours for the asking!
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a Scrooge hat and saying, “Bah Humbug!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]
Continued from here.
The final point I’ll make on choosing a good attitude is one I learned from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. One of the devotionals talked about thanking God for this opportunity to trust Him more, which profoundly affected the way I face trials in my life.
The Book of James tells us…
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” ~ Jas. 1:2-4
This passage of Scripture used to baffle me because I could not fathom how I could consider suffering to be “pure joy.” The way I have learned to do this (not that I do it perfectly) is by thanking God for this opportunity to trust Him more. God says that …
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9
So, every time my circumstances are more than I can bear, I choose to thank God for this opportunity to trust Him more because I am learning how to live dependent upon God. The weaker I am in a situation, the more room becomes available for God’s power to work in my life in that area. In situations that I feel competent to handle, I’m less likely to think about inviting God in. However, when I face a mountain that I know I cannot possibly climb, I have the opportunity to invite God’s power into my life and lean on Him while He moves the mountain. That’s something to rejoice over!
I hope you now see that your attitude is entirely up to you. While you cannot control the circumstances of your life, you do have control over how you react them. You can choose to react as the World does and complain, or you can choose to thank God and experience joy amidst the challenges. The choice is entirely up to you.
[Graphic: Cover of Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. Courtesy Amazon.]
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When I took Ann Voskamp up on her challenge in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are to write down 1,000 things in my life that I am grateful for, I started in the same place that most people do: my family and friends. Easy enough. Then, I moved on to “creature comforts,” beginning with everything in the bathroom. I can honestly say that no matter what is blowing up in my life or how badly I am hurting, I am always grateful not to have to walk in the cold or rain to an outhouse to tend to bathroom business. In fact, whenever I find myself tempted to feel sorry for myself and develop a bad attitude, I immediately start thanking God for running water, indoor toilets, hot showers, etc. because I always have an appreciation for those items. This jump starts me back toward a perspective of gratitude instead of self-pity.
As Christians, we have many blessings to thank God for, such as that we aren’t going to hell when we die. We can thank God for sending Jesus to save us … that whatever we are dealing with is temporary, but our time with God is eternal … that God still loves us even when we are having a pity party … I like to thank God that although my sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. I also thank him that his compassions never fail and are new every morning. Sometimes when I have a rough day, I thank God for the grace that I can turn off my brain as I sleep and start fresh in the morning.
As you progress through recording 1,000 reasons to be grateful, the task gets harder. Voskamp’s book explains her own journey through learning to express gratitude, even in the “ugly” things of life. For example, when my son had major back surgery last year, I looked for things to be grateful for, such as multiple people driving two-hours round trip to visit him in the children’s hospital, being flooded with get well cards, and a friendly nursing staff. That season of my life was extremely difficult, but I found much beauty to thank God for during that ugly season.
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in a large pile of the words “thanks” below the words, “Many thanks!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]