Carols are playing, people are bustling about and here in Iowa a white blanket of snow is falling as I type and all is well on the outside for most people. There is a sense of happiness in the air, but is there? I often walk around thinking, are these people really as happy as they seem? They are happy until someone snatches up the last tv before them (that wasn't me ahem!). We live in a fractured world and that just doesn't go away this time of year. In many cases, it is only intensified as the sting of loss is mixed with resentment, bitterness and stress from the season. Although on the outside, we are "happy", I would venture to guess many people have an ache in the core of their soul that they can't fill with any amount of presents, hot toddies, and sparkly decor. People are sad.
In our bible study, we have been learning that there is a place for sadness in our life. God made us with feelings and sadness is one of them. There is much to be sad about in our world, after all it is filled with sinful people. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
But what if we are spending more time in sadness then God desired? In our culture, we have so many choices. Just today I was in the coffee aisle and I had about 45 choices for ground coffee...45, people! Our culture says strive for more, get the best of the best and your sadness will dissipate but I think most of the tabloids will tell you the richest people in our society are sad.
So how as Christians can we encourage people to find joy (not happiness) despite feeling sad this Christmas, the season of our savior's birth. The answer may seem obvious but I don't know about you, it took me a long time to see it was more than believing in God, it was making Him the center of my universe and NO amount of bible slapping was going to get that point across.
So here are a few things we can do....
In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha gets a bad wrap because instead of sitting at Jesus's feet she was busily preparing a feast for SEVERAL unannounced visitors. She had to be prepared and she had to be willing to open her home and her heart to strangers, friends and family alike. I want to be like her in that sense ready when someone needs me. But how? By daily asking God in prayer to make you aware of others and their needs, asking Him to make you sensitive to others, and asking God to obey the pricks of the spirit.
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2
Not only must you be physically prepared and armed with a full pantry, notecards and whatever else you need to be hospitable. You need to prepare your heart. If you are on spiritual empty, you will have nothing to give others. But if you are spiritually full, you will overflow. So how do you get spiritually full? You know what I am going to say...
SPEND TIME WITH GOD.
This is where Martha got the bad wrap. You can't be just prepared physically. You must spend time with your Father, be at His feet. Learning from Him, be sensitive to His desires in your life.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
We are all busy but I know from my own life when I leave God out of my day, my day just doesn't go as well. When I make time for my relationship with God, my other relationships benefit. If I am short on God, I am short on life. It can be being still before Him, reading a devotion on your phone, in a book, meditating and memorizing a scripture, prayer...it can be 1 minute, it can be 5, it can we whatever you have to offer. No time is too short or too long for God and it most likely will look different everyday and every stage of life.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
You can be prepared all you want but if you don't use what God has given you, it is not fully using God's gifts in your life. Often times I read something in my devotional time only to be able to minister to someone later on that same day with what I learned or read. That is not by coincidence.
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:13
In a world of choices, it is hard to know where to start and so we don't. Just this year, I was perusing pinterest for ideas on how to share the nativity with our kiddos. There were so many choices, I was paralyzed. I didn't want to choose wrong. Aren't we like that many times with our choices and Satan quickly placed doubt where there need be none. What I later thought about was that God could use any tool to bring His people to Him no matter how fancy or homemade it was.
We often don't act because we convince ourselves there are more suitable people for the job or someone else will help. This may be true and God will use someone else to advance His kingdom but you miss out on the blessing of the job. Have you ever had that achy feeling after you sat and didn't act, knowing you should have.....me too and it doesn't feel good. Take note of those times and don't let another moment pass you by. It is when we think we are the least of these to act that God will be glorified the most, because it is His work in us.
for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
You know that nudge you get when you think of someone and you say to yourself,
"I should text them and tell them I am praying for them." Listen to those cues from the Holy Spirit. And if you don't know what to say, pray and ask God for His words.
So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
When the Spirit makes us aware of others and their needs, the focus is taken off of us and our needs and therefore our own sadness, doesn't disappear entirely, but is less magnified. As I have been preparing for this toy give away, the focus hasn't been on our family and our stuff as much. At first, I felt guilty my kids were being jipped of the "Christmas experience" only to realize that THIS is the Christmas experience. Jesus got down in the trenches and served people...this is what Christmas IS about. God has blessed us with joy from Him during this season and for the first time I "get" Christmas on a much deeper level. We were prepared and we acted and God has blessed that obedience even when we didn't think we were the right people for the job, He used us. Life is short, I don't want to be paralyzed on the sidelines, afraid for God to put me in the game.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
And while you are busy running the race God marked out for you (Hebrews 12:1) and serving others, you are forming relationships with broken people and they will see Jesus in you and when they are ready you can share the greatest gift of all, we have to share.....the gift of Jesus Christ. Because this season is just the beginning....the birth of a baby who was destined to die for my sins and yours (because we are all sinners - some sin is just a little more private than others). He is waiting for you to say "yes, I need more than what I can do on my own....I need you Jesus". And you have eternity with Him...what is better than that....NOTHING.
If you want to know more about my faith journey, you can read about it HERE
Labels: devotion, Encouragement, Faith