Empty is not fun. No one likes the thought of an empty glass, an empty gas tank and least of all, an empty bank account. When considered in those terms, empty is just plain undesirable. But what would happen if we could begin to think of empty as opportunity? What if, every time we saw barren, we could imagine bounty?
The idea of seeing what could be instead of what is, would not be, however, an earthly exercise in wishful thinking, merely an act of human intellect. Instead it would be a spiritual application of a powerful biblical principle, which simply teaches; "We [the righteous] live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7, NKJV). In other words, we are to live in expectancy, standing on what we know and believe to be true and not living in despair, troubled by what we see with our natural eyes.
When I was a kid I had one particular "goin' to church" dress that made me cringe. I was 11 at the time and the dress—the height of fashion for the late '50s—was crinkly pink organdy, complete with a wide-swinging under-hoop. If I became too animated while wearing it, I lost my balance! Even worse, my two younger sisters, Carolyn and Diana, each had a matching crinkly-hooped dress. As you can imagine, trying to sit together on the front-row pew during a church service presented a problem.
In the spring of 1980, a series of earthquakes and small eruptions drew the attention of people living in the Pacific Northwest. Scientists and sightseers were drawn to Mount St. Helens. Steam vents, tremors and hot spots appeared almost daily.
Then on May 18, a 5.1-magitude earthquake shook the mountain. For a few seconds the north flank seemed to ripple, then broke loose and began sliding downhill as a massive avalanche. Eruption plumes shot up as quickly as 600 miles an hour. The blast traveled as a hot, churning mass of gas, rock, ash and ice. More than 50 people were killed or reported missing after the blast, and the eruption devastated 235 square miles.
As a Christian counselor I have listened to many married couples express feelings of frustration and hurt because of their inability to effectively communicate with one another. Studies prove that communication breakdown is a major source of conflict, one that can eventually lead to other problems in the marriage, such as a lack of intimacy and divorce. Statistics prove the truth of what the Bible says in Proverbs 18:21: "The tongue has the power of life and death" (NIV).
However, there is a remedy. Many of the struggles married couples face, in fact, can be avoided with the use of some simple communication tools. Learning to use these tools to express ourselves in more effective ways fosters better understanding, which results in greater emotional intimacy.
As a young believer, whenever circumstances that I viewed as roadblocks to an otherwise smoothly sailed life appeared, I took them as something to remove. They had no business causing a detour in my well-organized, over-controlled lifestyle. I had determined that anything negative must be the devil's playground, and I needed many hours of standing on the Word to void that which I perceived as his sinister activity. However, this seemed to have no effect. Situations remained.
Avoiding them or trying to pray the problems away was of no use either. Troubles sometimes arrived in a rush with no advance warning. It was confusing. Shouldn't believers be exempt from the normal living that existed for nonbelievers? Doesn't the writer of the psalms tell us that the crooked will be made straight? Doesn't Jesus calm troubled waters? But I also kept coming across words such as "suffering," "trials" and "testing" from New Testament writers. Could it be that somehow the Father allowed those dreadful situations in my life? If so, why?
I love O'Reilly, my Jack Russell Terror—I mean Terrier. Her boundless energy and spunk keep me on my toes, and her mischievous antics make me laugh—even when I'm trying to discipline her. She is full of personality, possessing the spirit of a preschool toddler. I love that about her. That is until recently when something happened to temporarily change my appreciation of her joie de vivre!
I was released from the hospital after undergoing major surgery, and it felt good to be home. I slowly hobbled into the house; every muscle in my body was hurting. I grabbed my down comforter, wrapped it tightly around me like a burrito and began to melt beneath its warmth. Just as I had started to drift off into a nice sleep, I was abruptly awakened. The front door opened and a shot of lightning flashed by me. It was O'Reilly. She soared into the living room where I was nursing my wounds and skyrocketed right for me like a heat-seeking missile.
Perhaps God spoke to you at a particular time or was present on a particular occasion. At the time, it didn’t seem as if it was God who was doing the speaking or even if God was present at all. You underestimated, if not rejected, what He did or what He said. Only years later did it become clear to you that you had failed to recognize His presence.
I remember many years ago, when Louise and I had moved away from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for only 18 months, we came back and found that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church had been started. Before we went away, it had been a vacant lot with a big sign on it that read, "Future home of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church." That sign just stayed there month after month for a couple years. We wondered: What is happening here? When will that church start?
At one of our Charisma Women's Conferences, God spoke a powerful word to the nearly 8,000 women who attended. He said that it was time for us as women to step forward and accept the authority He has given us. He reminded us that we are empowered and authorized by His Word to do whatever He tells us to do.
The Promised Land described in the Old Testament is a picture of what God has available to us in the New Covenant (see Josh. 1). He has a promised land for each of our lives-a destiny that only we can fulfill. Your promised land is the will of God for your life and the only place you will find total fulfillment.
But to take your land, you must heed the admonition given to Joshua in verse 7: "Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go" (NIV).
When the Word says "be strong," it means not in your own strength but in the power of God. According to Acts 1:8, when we receive that power through the Holy Spirit, we are equipped just as the early church was to be witnesses for Christ. And one of the qualities we will exhibit in our Spirit-filled state is courage-the ability to face difficulties without fear.
Fear is one of the first weapons the enemy launches at us. It is the atmosphere of his realm just as faith is the atmosphere of God.
During the war in Iraq that took place in March of 2003, one of the tactics the United States employed against our enemies was psychological warfare. When successful, this tactic convinces the opposing army to surrender because they believe they are already defeated.
Our enemy, the devil, is more experienced than the Coalition forces in using this tactic since he has had thousands of years to perfect it. The Bible warns us not to be ignorant of his devices or he will take advantage of us (see 2 Cor. 2:11).
The first place he stages a battle is in our minds. But we have been given the strategy in the Word to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" and to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5), replacing the devil's thoughts with what God has promised us in His Word.
If you agree with the lies Satan whispers into your thoughts, it is easy to fall prey to discouragement. Discouragement will steal your faith, depress your spirit, take your strength and ultimately cause you to miss the plan God has for your life. That, of course, is the enemy's ultimate goal.
If you have become captive to discouragement, ask God to forgive you for listening to the lies of the enemy. Though He has promised to accomplish His plan through us, we have to do our part.
We must choose to believe His promises and trust Him to act. We must be strong and of good courage so we can fulfill all He has promised for our lives.
Many of you who are avid watchers of Christian television have no doubt seen my friend, Alvin Slaughter. He's a singer of tremendous anointing and incredible good humor.
Alvin tells a story about a time when he was in one of those first class lounges in the airport, waiting to board his next flight. Wearing his ever-present Walkman, he settled back with a favorite music tape and became overwhelmed with the presence of the Lord.
Our life on Earth is a life of seasons, a life of changes. Just as some seasons are eagerly awaited and others are less happily anticipated because they are not as pleasant, so some changes life brings are welcome and others are dreaded because they are difficult, harsh and painful.
The thing that keeps us pressing on in the midst of changes, both good and bad, is the belief that God is in full control of His world and that "He [makes] everything beautiful in its time" (Eccl. 3:11, NKJV).No matter what may come our way, we have a promise of beauty!
But only God in His eternal wisdom knows how the transformation will unfold and when it will take place. He does His work as we learn to live in obedience and contentment, trusting Him, believing that He will bring us through every season of sorrow and pain into a beautiful reward.
His Word assures us, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5). We can count on this. But what are we to do while the night season remains?
The answer is, ENDURE. "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise" (Heb. 10:36). "Endurance" is the ability to keep pressing on without growing weary. It is stamina, forbearance, courage, fortitude, durability and ability to stand.
But Biblical endurance is more than just being the last man to stand. Derived from the Greek word "hupomone," which means cheerful endurance or hopeful waiting,biblical endurance speaks to the attitude with which we wait as much as it does to the act of waiting itself. It is more than just making it across the finish line; it is the outlook we maintain while we run the race.
Cheerful endurance is a powerful attitude that says, "God not only CAN change my circumstances; He WILL!" It is a mind-set that is filled with compelling confidence, trust, expectation, optimism and assurance in Christ. Hopeful waiting and cheerful endurance will not allow us to give up our dreams or turn loose of our hope; instead they call us to a deeper level of faith.
So how do we gain such endurance? The answer is not easy to accept. The Bible clearly says that the trying and testing of our faith produces endurance (see James 1:3).
Testing is the weight of choice that God uses to develop our spiritual muscles and internal stamina. When we face a trial that threatens our faith; when we find ourselves in circumstances that are incompatible with what we believe, we are in God's gym. It is then that we have the opportunity to build our endurance.
The resistance we feel can serve us in that moment. If we begin to lift the weight up off ourselves with prayer, singing, meditation and obedient responses, we will bench-press our way into cheerful endurance. The joy that comes from passing a test, knowing that we have honored God in our lives, is incomparable.
But what if we do not respond properly to God's "no pain, no gain" training program? What happens to our endurance if these weights remain upon us? The result of that condition is obvious. Trying to run a race while encumbered with weights would leave us exhausted, depressed and drained. Yet many of us do exactly that and then are perplexed at why our progress is so slow.
Instead, we must rise up in faith, as the apostle Paul admonishes us to do: "Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us" (Rom.12:1).
The scripture says that WE are to throw off the weights. We must lay them down; we must rid ourselves of them because they are counterproductive to our endurance.
We are not supposed to tolerate the weight of fear, failure, bitterness or unforgiveness, or the heaviness of Satan's lies. We must press against these weights, lift them off and grow in cheerful endurance!
Is God calling you to joyful endurance? Is He calling you to a new level of faith? Do you need a fresh, dynamic, flourishing and hopeful expectation in God? Have you lost your hope that anything beautiful can come out of your life, your circumstances, your relationships, or your dreams?
Then get to God's gym. Start working out your salvation. There IS hope for a better tomorrow because you have a promise of beauty! Throw off the old weights and start running with endurance. You'll be amazed at the results!
"What a mess!" my husband and I both kept saying again and again as we threw our hands in the air. We spent the entire day going through old boxes of things we had collected over the years. We had set aside several days to clean out closets and storage spaces. We found countless things we forgot we owned. Do you have some boxes like that—the ones where you sort of know what is in them, but then again, not really? Most of us have scores of them.
In those boxes we found old magazines, yearbooks, old cassette tapes, pictures and keepsakes. Many had developed a musty smell that comes from years of storage. Then we came to the boxes of things we had saved from our early years together of marriage and ministry. After hours of sorting, I found it. It was a piece of paper from a time in our lives when it seemed that our dreams for the future were crumbling one by one.
It was a prayer list we had made, much of which seemed so far-fetched. Some of the items on the list were immediate needs that existed at the time, while others were larger dreams and things we were asking God to do in the years to come, much of which would take an absolute miracle to accomplish.
The day we wrote it out years before, we had hung that long list of seemingly impossible requests on our refrigerator. Every day we walked by it, and we would place our hands on it and pray. We spoke aloud each time, reminding the Lord we were expecting miracles. We quoted the Scripture verses we were trusting in regard to it. We declared that each item would come to pass and we would see the hand of God move. We spoke over the list believing for God's intervention, even when it felt like we weren't seeing it.
Shortly thereafter, we moved to a different house and, along with the rest of our household items, packed up that list of prayer requests. Well, you know how it goes. You don't always unpack all those boxes. Actually, a few moves later and nearly two decades of marriage later, the number of unpacked boxes in the garage and basement grew.
Then finally on a clean-out day, I read that list again written almost 20 years ago. My eyes filled with tears as I read it. I suddenly realized that God has not only answered the seemingly small things, but over the years He had also answered every item on the list, way beyond even what we wrote down. He even answered the things that seemed impossible. Again, in a flash, I was reminded of all the miracles that we had seen during the last several years. We had seen the power of God revealed from heaven again and again. The things we had seen God do were nothing short of miraculous and it was mostly all related to what was on the list!
At that moment, we were not only reminded of God's enduring faithfulness (and we apologized to the Lord for not acknowledging His answers to these prayers sooner), but we also realized something else. It was that every time we were putting our hand on the list taped to the fridge we were releasing the power of God to work on our behalf. The supernatural God inside us was releasing miracles; a river was flowing and bringing the answer, and it didn't stop flowing until every request was answered, even though we didn't realize it was happening at the time.
I have learned from this experience not only that God lives in us, but also that the supernatural God lives in us. He wants His supernatural power to flow through us to accomplish the miraculous and do the impossible in our circumstances.
I was talking with a woman who was struggling through a series of trials in her life. Her take on her situation was that she was powerless to do anything but wait and see what God would do. I knew she was committed to trust God, even if the outcome was not what she hoped; however, let's face it, she wanted the same outcome we all want—the same outcome we wanted when we made our prayer list. She wanted her trial to result in a miracle. She wanted a supernatural intervention of God to turn her situation around.
If we are honest with ourselves, that is really what we all want when we come to God, isn't it? We want the power of God to rescue us from the pain today so we can rise up and be a new person tomorrow. Maybe what we have yet to realize is that the power of God is already there. It's in you in the person of the Holy Spirit ready to work and ready to flow (see Acts 1:8). When the fullness of God's Spirit is in you, there is power, and it's the same power that performed the miracle of raising Jesus Christ from the dead (see Rom. 8:11). Tap into that power and watch Him do the miraculous for and through you.
Adapted from The Supernatural You by Brenda Kunneman, copyright 2009, published by Charisma House. This book will show you how to tap into the river of the Holy Spirit within you to experience the supernatural power of God working in and through you. To order a copy click on this link:
In my years of service as a pastor, many people have come to me with questions concerning knowing the will of God for their lives. You may have questions about this as well.
You may ask, "Well, pastor, how do I really know whether this is my will or God's will?" What I always tell people is that the will of God is following the desires of your heart.
You may respond to that by saying: "Well, pastor, how do I know whether it is my desire or God's desire? How can I tell the difference between the desires I have and those that God gives me?" My answer to that is, "If your heart is pure and you really desire to do the will of God, you don't have to worry about your desires being wrong."
Titus 1:15 says, "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (KJV).
The only time you have to be concerned about your desires being wrong is when you are in rebellion, disobedience, lust, or some other type of sin. Then you have to be careful that you don't confuse your desires with God's desires. People in a sinful spiritual state will twist or pervert God's desires. But as long as you are pure, sincere and open before God, you can trust your desires because your heart is open to receive the desires of God rather than your own.
One of the primary ways God will lead you is by the desires of your heart. For example. If you are supposed to have a teaching ministry, God will give you the desire to teach. You will have a burning desire to teach. Jeremiah had a prophetic ministry. He was called to give the word of the Lord, and when he tried to suppress it, the desire to prophesy became like fire shut up in his bones.
You need to judge your own heart. If it is found to be pure and you are sincere, then follow the desires of your heart because God will lead you by dropping things into your spirit (that is, your heart). I believe it is the same for getting a rhema word from God.
As long as your heart is right and your motives are pure, you don't need to fear deception. God will always answer those who are pure in heart. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). God will give you revelation, and He will show you things to come.
Ask God to keep you pure of heart and able to discern a false prophet. You will often know them by their fruits (see Matt. 7:16,20; Luke 6:44). Do not let the existence of counterfeit prophecy deter you from receiving the real thing. That would be like deciding not to pay for purchases with dollar bills because you have heard that people manufacture counterfeit ones.
There have been many times when I went to a meeting confused about the specifics concerning the will of God for my life. I just did not know how to accomplish what I felt He was telling me to do. I needed to hear God speak to my situation. But because the sermon was "general" in nature, an all-purpose good message, I would leave in the same state in which I came, and I would not have an opportunity to receive prophetic ministry, which is what I needed most.
It wasn't until I started seeking a rhema word from God that I got the direction I needed for my life. You will also get the direction you need for your life if you open up your heart to the word of the Lord through personal prophecy and go to local assemblies where the believers flow accurately in the prophetic gift. Thank God for the gift of prophecy.
Adapted from God Still Speaks by John Eckhardt, copyright 2009, published by Charisma House. Building from a biblical foundation, Eckhardt incorporates his own experiences and those from people in his church to help you understand how to hear and receive the prophetic word of the Lord for you, your family, church and community. To order a copy click on this link:
The prodigal son didn't end up among the pigs the day he left his father's house; he went through a gradual process of decline (see Luke 15:11-15). So it is with us. If the enemy presented the end with the first temptation, it would be easy to resist! But usually the departure from grace is so subtle that even leaders take the bait.
The warning signs are visible long before we fully embrace sin. One of the first is that we allow other people or things to take the place in our hearts that belongs only to God.
Preferring any earthly thing over God is a clear sign that our hearts have wandered. Even the spiritually mature are in danger of allowing what is visible to usurp the place of the eternal, invisible God.
The result is that we become lukewarm in our pursuit of God. Complacency sets in. We compare ourselves to the standard of others rather than to the standard of the Word and justify what we know is compromise.
We begin to live "a form of godliness," being outwardly religious but having no power in our lives (2 Tim. 3:5, KJV). Self then takes the throne (see vv.2-4). We are no longer able to express the pure love God desires and are often judgmental and critical of others. Ultimately, like the prodigal son squandering his inheritance, we end up on the path to sin and spiritual death.
If your heart has wandered, recognizing your condition and crying out for God's help is the first step back into His empowering grace. Even your failure can be a stepping stone to a higher place spiritually if you come to see that your flesh can't be trusted. Understanding your own weakness is a key to releasing God's power on your behalf.
The next step is to get right with God and others. Even if you have been wronged, you must forgive. This may seem difficult, but it is essential to maintaining communication with God—and it is worth the price. As one saint wrote: "When the soul seeks nothing in the universe but the smile of God and fears nothing but offending Him, it will gladly consent to any price to get right with Him."
]Third, look to God and His Word as your standard rather than to those around you. Jesus said, "'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'" (Matt. 5:48). This is an impossible standard for us to attain on our own, but with God we can do all things (see Phil. 4:13).
Finally, learn to walk in the Spirit, keeping your mind on God and His kingdom by praying continually. In this manner the Holy Spirit will become a filter for your thoughts.
Daily pray Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (NIV). God will be faithful to answer this prayer and to keep your heart stayed on Him.
I had to laugh when I read this USA Today newspaper headline: "Psychologists now know what makes people happy." I didn't know happiness was a secret to be discovered by my noble profession! Curious, I kept reading. What were these exciting new findings?
If you are a student of the Bible, you won't be surprised. Research only validates God's way of doing things.
The happiest people are those who spend the least time alone and pursue intimacy and personal growth. When I read this, I immediately thought of Jesus. He was proactive when it came to community. He poured His life into a faithful band of followers and developed an intimate circle of 12 men. And through those men, He established the church. The early church was all about community, intimacy and personal growth.
Happy people don't judge themselves by what others do or have. That is, they don't compare themselves with others. The Bible is clear that we are not to measure ourselves by the yardstick of others, only by the Word of God. As we obey God's Word and choose to please Him, blessing and contentment follow.
Materialism is toxic for happiness. The parable of the rich young ruler in Matthew bears this out. Despite this man's riches, he wanted something more—eternal life. Jesus stressed the importance of keeping the commandments but told him something more was required. He must sell his possessions and follow Him. Sadly, the young man chose material possessions over Christ and walked away feeling "sorrowful."
Optimism is important, even in dark times. Because of Christ, hope abounds. Jeremiah 32:17 proclaims, "'Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You'" (NKJV). In the last chapter of Job, after Job suffers much and has been tested, he cries out, "'I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You'" (Job 42:2). Over and over, we are given biblical examples of people who refused to be downtrodden because of circumstances or events. Their hope was in the Lord. The end result is rest and peace.
Actions matter. It's not just what you believe or your outlook on life that contributes to happiness. People who give to others and aren't self-absorbed are more satisfied with life. No surprise here. God gave His only begotten Son, the ultimate sacrificial gift. Giving is a biblical principle whether it involves finances, service, food, shelter, time or talent. The result of giving is blessing.
Happy people know their strengths and use them. We are stewards of God's gifts and are to use them for His glory. When you move in those gifts and do what God has equipped you to do, you are happy. Psychologists call this moving in the "flow." People of faith "flow" in the Spirit.
People who feel gratitude are happy. We are eternally grateful for Jesus and His sacrifice and for all God has done in our lives. Out of that genuine gratitude flows happiness.
The strongest link to happiness is a willingness to forgive others. The benefits of forgiveness are well documented psychologically. And for the believer, forgiveness is not an option; it is a command from Jesus. We forgive others because He forgave us.
The search for happiness will fall short if it doesn't lead to the One in whom contentment can be found. Authentic happiness is unrelated to events, money, power, fame or anything else our culture associates it with. Happiness is a choice, as the Scriptures declare: "Happy are the people who are in such a state. Happy are the people whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 144:15).
This new year, make it a goal to choose happiness by following the guidelines above. Look to God for your satisfaction and learn to trust in His sovereignty and omniscience. Obey Him and believe that He works all things for your good. Remember, His joy is available to you, and it is that which gives you strength.
Paging through a botanical magazine last winter, I found myself marveling at the beautiful flowering trees and exotic plants pictured inside. In a moment of sheer inspiration, I decided it would be awesome to have more in my yard than one scruffy pine tree surrounded by a few faded wood chips. Whether impetus or impetuous, this surge of enthusiasm compelled me to order the "Jasmineflowering tree" so exquisitely displayed on page 5.
I was jazzed. In fact, I couldn't wait to get my plant.
Weeks after I had placed the order, however, my excitement was beginning to wane. "Where's my tree?" I wondered. "Spring will be over next week, and I still don't have an award-winning landscape!"
Finally, a package from California arrived. Staring blankly at the way-too-small parcel, I decided it must be the invoice or perhaps the all-important stakes needed to support my new tree. As I opened the little brown box, I simultaneously surveyed the area around me, looking to see where the rest of my delivery was hiding.
After carefully unveiling the mysterious arrival, I stared motionless into the shallow carton. Finally, in disbelief and agitation, I drew out a package of tiny, unimpressive seeds.
My initial excitement quickly dissipated. "You've got to be kidding me," I moaned. "They actually expect me to plant these dead flakes?" I simply could not imagine that I would have to WORK to obtain this tree.
Suddenly I came to a sobering realization: That's how many people would like to go through life—wanting results without doing the work, expecting a harvest without planting the seeds. Unfortunately in God's kingdom it doesn't work that way. In fact, most of what God accomplishes on Earth today starts in seed form.
When God wanted to send a deliverer to save mankind, He sent a seed and placed it in a plain human package. No wonder those who had so long awaited the coming of the Messiah were less than impressed to see an ordinary baby instead of a king.
And what about the teachings of this infant grown to full stature? He taught that the kingdom of God was like a seed which, when planted, would grow gradually: "first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head" (Mark 4:28, NASB).
In other words, Jesus told us that the dealings of God would almost always involve a maturing process. God gives us seedlings of promise that must be nurtured and cared for until they can stand tall like an oak tree.
So many times we get discouraged when we don't see quick results from our labors. We may even become so frustrated that we are tempted to stop and quit. But God's Word helps us remember this principle: The plantings of the Lord begin in seed form.
In Old Testament times when Zerubbabel was rebuilding the temple, people laughed and scoffed as they compared the fledgling work to the majesty of the original built by Solomon. But through a messenger the Lord sent reassurance: "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin" (Zech. 4:10, NLT).
Right now you may have a beautiful picture in your heart of what you long for. You may even have dared to ask God for great things and have sensed His promise to you of success.
But when you opened your hands to receive, all you found was seeds—small, unimpressive conceptions. Don't be discouraged! Remember that seeds contain life and have within them the very essence of your promise. If you plant them in good soil and invest yourself in the nurture and development of them, they will grow and bloom forth with fruit.
Today, hear the Holy Spirit whisper to you, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for I delight to see the work begin." Plant your faith, my friend, and watch and see what God will do.
It was 1957, Christmastime. Elvis was my favorite singer. And Christmas was my favorite holiday—except for this year. Daddy's job with the Santa Fe railroad had moved our family—Daddy, Mother, my two younger sisters and me—from our small, friendly town in Kansas to a strange, dusty town in the southwestern desert.
Instead of celebrating a white Christmas with the typical warm and fuzzy sights, sounds and smells I had known each year at Grandma and Grandpa's big festively decorated house, I was thrown into a strange brown land with neighborhoods of small row houses near the train tracks and neighbors who spoke little English.
The Christmas season is so hectic we can sometimes feel like contest winners who are given 15 minutes to grab $500 worth of free groceries. But though not every activity we engage in during this special time is a spiritual one, we can learn to treasure the moments of preparation by keeping the right perspective.
First, there's the planning. How am I going to afford it all this year? This question bounces around inside my head like tennis shoes in a dryer for about a month before the season actually begins. When I'm driving or showering I click out the number of names on my list and how much I can spend on each person, how I can make or bake some gifts to offset the cost of others, which names must go to the top of the list, who will just have to understand, and so on. At some point in my mental calculations, the Holy Spirit breaks through and reminds me that where God guides, He provides.
Then there's the bake-a-thon. Every evening after work the kitchen fills with a cloud of flour. Nuts are chopped in one corner of the room, trays are stacked in another, gingerbread boys and sugar cookies are decorated on the kitchen table, and rows of filled, jellied, balled and candied cookies are cooled and stacked on another counter. They may not be perfect, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that man does not live by bread alone!
Next the tree must be bought and old decorations dragged out of their boxes. My son is delighted to find the special ornament he made in school last year—long since forgotten. He solemnly tells the history and genealogy of each hand-made item. "We got this one when I was very, very young," he—still a young boy—tells his even younger sister. "And I made this one before you were born."
The tree must go up. And no matter how perfectly full and even-branched it looked on the lot, I can't seem to turn it to find the perfect vantage point. Plus, the bottom of the trunk, instead of being straight, appears to be shaped at a right angle to the rest of the tree. Someone is going to need muscle surgery after holding it up until it is finally braced into the stand! But once the tree is in place, I realize my Herculean efforts paid off—the end result is a delight to my children and a perfect symbol of the Trinity.
Before you know it, it's Christmas Eve. I'll send the children on an errand to some corner of the house while I search through packages to find new socks for them to wear to church. Bows will be tied, faces washed, shirts buttoned, and belts fastened, and we'll rush off to church for the candlelight service.
I'll straighten my daughter's burning candle over and over, worried that hot wax will drip on her arm. I'll tell my little boy to shush a thousand times—until the beauty of the candlelit church and singing choir fills us with a silent sense of awe.
But that's not the end of the preparations. Driving home, I'll worry about putting toys together. Instructions become destructions in my hand. It's a good thing the Master Carpenter is there to direct me!
I'll reassure my daughter for the millionth time that Santa will not get burned when he comes down the chimney. We'll fill plates with cookies, and the children will argue over which ones are Santa's favorites. We'll carefully decide where to place the notes and cookies so Santa won't miss them.
After the children have been shooed to bed a dozen times and warned that Santa won't come if they're awake, after the last bows have been fastened to the packages, when the whole house sparkles with the aura of candlelight and shiny wrapping paper—I'll rest.
I'll stare into the glowing embers of a dying fire and recall the sweet scenes of the previous weeks, the treasures of my heart: my daughter's hair filled with flour and her tongue hanging out of the corner of her mouth as she vigorously rolls cookie dough with her toy roller pin; my son's eagerness to give me the gift he made at school; the excited squeals when we lit up the tree; the children wrapping tiny gifts they bought with pounds of paper and tons of tape.
And in those moments of reflection, I'll think about the reason we did all the planning and shopping and baking and decorating in the first place. I'll think about the most important treasure of my heart—Jesus—and I'll thank God for Christmas.
This year, don't let all the demands of the holiday season get you down. Try to treasure each memory you're making, and in the midst of your busyness, take time to reflect on the greatest treasure of all—Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
I used to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping rush.
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic — only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were bulging from every available nook and cranny.
I slumped to the floor and thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for 10!"
My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we giving our children?
One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile. This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for a special reward for hard work.
Finally the stack looked sensible.
Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future, Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2) a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.
And we've seen a change. No longer is Christmas an endless list of "wants." There is a new emphasis on cherished gifts. This represents a stark contrast to the disturbing trend among kids today to feel entitled to get whatever they want, whenever they want it.
As I've listened to children move through the hallways of our house, I've heard the chatter of "more." "We have more videos than you." "I have a CD player in my room." "You don't have your own phone line?" "I'm asking for a laptop." "You need a cell phone to look important."
They get it from their parents. My favorite is the mother who proudly boasts that her daughter will outdo everyone in the neighborhood. She will have the best of everything -- before everyone else. The daughter knows this strategy and is horrified if anyone beats her to the material punch.
Not understanding her conscious intention to overload her daughter with "stuff," I naively asked, "Aren't you worried you're spoiling her?" The blank stare she gave me was enough to answer my question.
One summer the hot ticket was a scooter. Everyone on our block ran to the stores to buy one. My kids asked, but they knew what was coming: "Tell me again why I should run to the store to buy you a $100 item?"
Materialism not only distorts the meaning of Christmas but also creates ungrateful kids. It's time to stop the madness. Instead of a new scooter, take your kids to a soup kitchen and let them serve. Visit a homeless shelter or a hospital children's ward, and put things in perspective.
I know what I am saying isn't new, but we need to hear it regularly. It's so easy to indulge our kids this time of year. But we need to examine our motives.
Is our overindulgence related to guilt from being absent or unavailable? Is it an attempt to communicate love, compete with others, create an identity or look successful? Is it the result of idol worship, a lack of self-restraint or misguided thinking?
When I see kids quickly open presents and throw them off to the side without even a thank you, I know something is wrong. When little Suzie tells me Christmas was no fun because she didn't get what she wanted, I am concerned. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas; our ungratefulness has.
Christmas is about God's giving His Son as a glorious gift to mankind. Don't clutter that gift with so many others that He gets lost in the fray. This season teach the children in your life to cherish the gift they already have — Jesus.
Did you feel guilty on Thanksgiving-the day of all days to express heartfelt gratitude to God—because you aren't TOTALLY content? Perhaps you offered up the obligatory thanks for family, home, job, health and the hearty meal as you sat around the holiday feast, but inside, you were aware that your heart is not quite full to the brim with satisfaction—and you aren't sure what to do about it.
I opened the front door and came face to face with a rather large gift basket wrapped in clear cellophane with a gigantic velvet orange and brown bow. It was so big that it blocked the face of the deliveryman.
The sight of such a gift was too wonderful for words! As a young married couple, Terry and I were going through hard times, with little money for extras, much less the basics!
The arrival of this surprise basket of goodies was not only timely, but a miracle!