That Christmas Feeling

It doesn’t feel like Christmas is three days away. Right now the snow is receding into murky puddles on the sidewalk and the ground looks like a flea-bitten dog covered in bare patches. After a week of white blizzards that made me hopeful for a snowy Christmas, the weather has turned warm and wet.

But more than the weather, my heart doesn’t feel Christmas-y. I’m still going about my day-to-day activities, with a few more fun events and background Christmas music thrown in, but nothing major. Nothing that arrests my heart.

I do this to myself every year. I keep waiting for some Christmas magic in the form of a beautiful song or a perfect snow or a meaningful memory made with family. I hope that will jolt my heart into a Christmas feeling. But I don’t think that’s the true answer, as nice as all of those things are.

How can we prepare our hearts for Christmas? To truly feel the magic and special-ness of this season?


Stop and take the time to see Jesus. To think of your life not in terms of to-do lists and cookies to make and events to go to and people to buy for, or even in terms of the “me time” you need or the fun things you’ll do on your break – but in terms of Jesus.

To feel His presence drawing near as you are still, praying and looking up through the blinds at the cloudy sky. To hear His invitation in the songs you sing. To think of Him when you’re tempted to be selfish or overwhelmed or sad during this season.

Put simply, the way to feel like it’s truly Christmas is to be aware of Jesus in each moment. To look for His nearness and hope for His coming. To hold on to the facets of His character that He’s revealing to you right now – as the God who is Near, Light of the World, Humble Man, Lover of your Soul – and seek to see that everywhere, in everything. To see the God who is already here, working in your everyday, normal life.

That will not only make Christmas feel more special, but will infuse every day with wonder – like a beautiful present picked just for you.


Experiencing Beauty

I woke up to the close feeling of darkness. Not middle-of-the-night darkness, but something-is-going-to-happen darkness. As the morning progressed the sky has pressed closer and closer, until it finally pressed out the rain within it. The sky is trembling now as the rain sheets down, catches a breath, sheets down again.


I’m stuck here in half wonder, wishing I could experience this sweet summer rain more fully without getting my clothes dirty. Wishing I could pull back the curtain and the window and the wall and allow the rich smell of earthy steam to penetrate my senses, without getting a ton of bugs and water on my wood floor.

You’d laugh, but you’re probably wishing right along with me. Some part of you would love to dance in the rain, even as another part recoils in horror at the clean-up you’d have to do. Some part of you wishes you could experience that beauty fully without all the mess that inevitably comes with it.

I think this happens in every area of our lives. You don’t want to deal with the crush of rejection, so you say no to that potential first date. You want to see the mountains of Switzerland, but that pile of bills seems too high to even consider it. You’d love to start a family, but you’re too scared from all the pregnancy horror stories you’ve heard.  You share in your husband’s dream of starting a farm, but you’re too skeptical to start making it become a reality.

But don’t you see? When you refuse these opportunities because you’re focused on the mess they’ll make, you miss seeing the beauty they create as well. You miss out on an opportunity to experience beauty – the rush of new love, the jaw-dropping glory of a far-off land, the closeness of a baby in your arms, the pride of living off your own land. Even just the warm summer rain splashing on your face.

I, for one, don’t want to miss any chance I have at experiencing beauty. Why? Because each glimpse of beauty is more than just a great experience or a wonderful feeling; it is a glimpse into the face of God. And that is worth all the stains and pains and tears that stand in the way of my pursuit.

Not a failure

Oh Dear One,

Don’t ever believe that you are a failure. Oh, you may fall or fumble or goof things up, but it is the thing that has failed, not you.

That lie that attacks your very identity is Satan’s own lie. Actually, it is his own downfall, for he fails every day at taking over power from God. All his plans have been failures, even when he thought he succeeded. Even when he convinced Eve to eat the apple and be separated from God forever, God provided His Seed who would bring her back into even fuller communion. Even when he crushed God’s Son, this “victory” was actually Jesus’ own sacrifice as a ransom for many. Even when he worked to destroy the church with persecution and deception, God’s bride came out even stronger. Every time he’s tried to ruin God’s plans, he has come out the loser. Every single time.

So when you feel those accusing words creep in: you’re such a failure… you really screwed everything up this time… you can’t do anything right… remember who it is who’s speaking. It’s not the voice of Truth; it’s the voice of the Liar. And you don’t have to listen to his lies. Tell him, “No, you’re the failure, and you will never thwart God’s plan – for eternity, and for my life.”

Then go out and live like you mean it. Repent of your sin if you need, make things right with those you may have wronged, fix your mistakes if you can. But never walk in failure. Walk in Grace.

Faith vs Apathy

Fault lines tremble underneath my glass house

But I put it out of my mind

Long enough to call it courage

To live without a life-line.

I bend the definition of faith to exonerate my blind eye.

“Till the sirens sound, I’m safe.”

~Sleeping at Last, Earth

These lyrics caught in my mind and stuck there, like a rock in the crook of a stream.

Do I do this in my own life?

Do I tell God that I will trust Him and then go on my own way?

Do I think “having faith” means turning my mind off of the problem?

Do I ignore Him until He sounds the sirens that will finally wake me to His leading?

I think that too often, when we say we will trust God we really mean that we will put the problem out of our minds and continue on our own way. We think if we don’t deal with it, the problem will eventually go away or work itself out. That’s trust, right?

No, that’s apathy. As Sleeping at Last sings in the song above, that mindset bends what faith really is into something much more unstable and shallow. An apathetic view tries to ignore the problem, even when it’s something as obvious as a glass house standing on a fault line of an earthquake. An apathetic view believes that everything is fine and will work out somehow – until the sirens sound and it is too late to change.

This kind of mindset can seem only shades different than faith. After all, you’re not holding on to try to control the situation. You’re not focusing on the problem anymore; you’re just “letting God work.” But it is a sinister subtlety.

True faith does not just let go of control and forget about things, true faith focuses on God and sees the problem in His light, which causes you to relinquish control over the situation into God’s hands. It allows you to focus on God instead of your problems, and realize His power and sovereignty in your life. It actually enables you to handle the problems of life instead of pretending they’re not there.

Faith is a life-line, a steadfast gaze on Jesus, a deep root that anchors you no matter what shatters and collapses around you.

Apathy is a pretense that you have a life-line, a blind eye to the chaos around, a castle built on sand that will wash away.

What do you want to base your life on?

“Therefore, everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

Thank you for this day…

It’s so easy to start out a prayer with “Dear Lord, thank-you for this day…” and then continue on without much thought about what you’ve just said. Recently I decided to examine that little phrase more closely, and I realized there’s a whole lot of depth there that we routinely miss out on. It can mean so much more than the perfunctory opening it has come to be.

As I was mulling over this one morning, I decided to explore some of the reasons why I would thank God for the day. I decided to turn it around and see what I would not have if God had not given me a new day. Here is what I wrote:

Oh Lord, thank-you for this day, for if you had not given it,

…I would not have had the opportunities that presented themselves for proclaiming you.

…I would not have known the joy of fellowship with You and other believers.

…I would not have had another sunrise to praise You for.

…I would not have another time to soak in Your presence and love for me.

…I would not have been able to open that treasure trove of Your holy Word and glean its riches.

…I would not have to face the challenges of my day – which are really opportunities for Your power to shine forth in my life.

…I would not be able to continue to grow in the talents You’ve given me.

…I would not be able to glorify You.

When I was done, I looked at my list in surprise. Hidden in the depths of a simple praise to God for my day was a wealth of spiritual riches and joys that I could thank God for. Makes me wonder – how much of our existence do we take for granted? Or even are ungrateful about? How much do we acknowledge God’s hand in even giving us a new day? We ought to ponder and pray about such things.

What are you taking for granted?

How to be a true encourager

I often find myself in a role of encourager. A friend calls me up with a problem, a family member is distraught or discouraged over something, or even an acquaintance seems down about their day. And before I know it, I’m trying to help them and give them all the answers they need. I think encouraging others is a very good thing to do, but often I don’t feel like I’m truly encouraging. I come to the end of myself and there’s nothing more to give.

In my devotions the other day I stumbled across this verse in 1 Samuel: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) The NASB says encouraged him in God.

This struck me as being a biblical way to help those who need encouragement. Instead of wracking my brain for the right words for a pep talk, I can point my friends to the only One who has enough strength to help them get through their difficulty. My job is not to provide strength to others, but to help them find strength in God.

Think about it – if we think we’re supposed to provide strength for our friends, that actually enables them to continue to be weak. They’ll come to us when they need support, instead of going to God. And while that may seem great to people like myself who love to support and nurture others, it actually hinders both their spiritual walk and ours. It places myself in God’s place for both my life and my friend’s – and that is never a wise thing to do.

So does this mean that we should never encourage another person for fear of taking God’s place? Of course not! God says specifically in His word that people are made for community. Oftentimes He works through those around us to show us His love and care. The key is this: our role is to come alongside others in order to help them find their strength (or joy, contentment, love…) in Christ, not in ourselves.

My CU Graduation '14 269

So, how can we be true encouragers to those around us? Here’s three suggestions:

You can pray with them. Don’t just tell them you’ll pray for them and then begin spouting out your own wisdom – use the time to talk to the One who knows everything about that person and their situation. And when you do this in the presence of your friend, it will bless them more than anything else. It communicates to them that you care enough to take time and pray right then, that you understand enough of their pain to want to cry out to God on their behalf, that God is sovereign over their situation, and that He cares and really is listening to both of you.

You can also bring the conversation around to God and His word. This is something I had to learn when I was a teenager and had a friend who would always call me up and be so distraught over everything. I was a shy person who still was trying to figure out how to talk about God without sounding… well… cheesy. But I realized that if I tried to reason with my friend we would keep going around in circles. But if I asked her Have you prayed about this? or You know, God says this about your problem in His Word, then we would have a much more fruitful conversation. Of course this doesn’t mean that you have to be spouting verses left and right. Simply when you know God has spoken about this issue in His word, direct your friend towards that instead of giving them a general answer like “it will all work out.” Listen to the Holy Spirit, and He will bring the right words and verses to your mind.

And lastly, don’t try to answer all of your friend’s questions. You can’t. Point then to the God who can. Even if their question is about or against Him, He still has the answer for it. Recognize that you are finite and cannot completely fix the “problem” or smooth out all of their doubts.

And you know what? All of this hard work has a reward in it for you too. Your faith will be strengthened as you see your prayers for that person answered, as they begin to stand on their own spiritual feet and go to God first rather than you. And you may even find that the person you thought needed so much help will turn around and encourage you in the same way.