The last week of advent is all about peace. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to tell them of Jesus’ birth, they said “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). It says that those who have God’s favor will have peace, but who does God’s favor rest upon? Psalm 5:12 says “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor”. So the righteous will have God’s favor. No one is righteous on their own, but we are made clean and righteous by our belief in Jesus and the sacrifice that he made for us. So if we trust in Jesus, then the angels’ words are for us and we can expect God’s favor and peace in our lives!
Some time ago, God spoke to me and said this:
“This is the truth. Listen carefully to my word, for my word is true. Peace be with you and flow through you as you follow what it says. Through you go through trials and heartache, I will bring you out into my perfect peace. Do not neglect to remember what I have done, both in my word and in your life. Continue to listen for my voice and I will lead you. You will rise on wings like eagles, you will walk and not grow weary, my arms will hold you steady and you will rest in my protection.”
How encouraging! Though this was spoken to me, I believe these words are meant for each and every one of us who believes in Christ. God’s peace is accessible to us and will be there for us even when we go through trials. As we end this advent season, let us find rest in God’s perfect peace. And let us remember to celebrate the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.
I don’t know about you, but Christmas is always the busiest time of the year for me. It’s filled with fun, family, friends, beautiful lights, gifts, and all kinds of wonderful things. But it’s also filled with shopping, wrapping, and a couple of other things I don’t like very much. Even the things that I do really love to do, like baking, can become stressful when I feel like I do not have enough time for it.
Every year I hold a cookie swap with my friends and it is always one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. We eat together, laugh, play games, swap cookies, and just enjoy each other’s company. I love that cookie swap and I love hosting it, but with the busyness of the holiday season, sometimes preparing for it can become a chore that sets me over the edge. There’s the cleaning, coming up with the games to play, buying the food, getting prizes, baking the cookies, etc that normally I enjoy but this year especially felt like I did not have time for. A couple of days ago, it caused an anxiety that I just couldn’t shake, that was affecting my behavior towards those closest to me. One morning, in the midst of my anxiety, God spoke to me. This is what he said:
“Take things one step at a time. Do not worry about tomorrow; I have already taken care of it for you. I am at work in your past, present, and future. Trust in me and I will give you the desires of your heart. You are striving to do things in your own strength. Stop striving and let me work.”
I realized that what he said was true. I was planning each minute detail of the party, but I hadn’t really stopped to consider what God might be trying to do in it. The day of the party came and I felt like I did not have enough games planned, barely got the fudge I made cut up and bagged in time, and had to ask my husband for help cleaning the house. But despite my feelings of unpreparedness, the swap went wonderfully. During the event, I looked around the room at all of the women from different churches that I had attended, laughing and talking together and realized that God was doing something. It did not matter that I did not have the exact mints that I had wanted to buy, or that I only planned three games for the evening. Everyone had a wonderful time and there was a companionship and joy in the room that could only come from the unity that we have in Jesus.
I want to remember that evening in the future when I am feeling anxious and hold on to God’s words to me: “Stop striving and let me work.”
In Matthew 1:27, Joseph is told to give his son the name Jesus, which means “The Lord Saves” because he would save his people from their sins. Notice that his name is not “The Lord Helps People Save Themselves.” Jesus did not come to help people save themselves, he came to be their Lord and Savior. We do not need to strive to be perfect, or to save ourselves. All we need is to trust Jesus to be our Savior. So stop striving and let Him work.
I just love this song! I have never heard a song that better depicts God’s joy. When the choir shouts “Joy” I always get goosebumps.
I also love that this song doesn’t sugar coat things. It’s not saying that when things are going great we should have joy. It talks about the stress of life, the horrible stories on the news, and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I think we can all relate to that first line “Lately, I’ve been reading, watching the nightly news. Don’t seem to find the rhythm, just wanna sing the blues.” It seems like 90% of the news stories are always bad. Just spending an hour watching the news can leave you depressed and deflated.
Just like love, joy is a choice. It’s not something that we’re asked only to do when things are going well and we’re happy. It’s something that should always be a part of our life. (Joy is something that I personally really struggle with, so I’m talking to myself here). “Joy is an emotion that’s acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful” (Wellman, 2015). And if we are having trouble being joyful, we should turn to God for it, just like the songwriter did here.
Nehemiah 8:10 says “Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The people had just been read God’s law and were weeping because they felt so convicted of all of the things that they had done wrong. But Nehemiah was basically saying, “Don’t worry about your past. It’s in the past. Enjoy life right now and serve God in your life right now.” God forgives us of anything that we have done wrong in the past, so don’t let anything in your past dictate whether you are able to have joy right now.
If the joy of the Lord is our strength, then when we are not joyful, we must be weak. That makes sense, because I feel like my faith is pretty weak when I’m feeling depressed. If joy is our strength, then we should put it on like armor and wear it wherever we go so that we are ready when we are attacked by the enemy.
So how do we put on joy? First, we have to let go of our worries and give them up to God (Philippians 4:6-7). Then we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. Even on the cross, Jesus was able to look past his physical circumstances to the joy of overcoming death and having us join him in eternity. I would say that the cross is the worst physical and emotional circumstance that anyone could possibly be in, so if Jesus was able to hold on to joy despite that, then we should be able to as well.
Joy and happiness are not the same thing and we don’t have to be happy all the time. Obviously, Jesus was not happy on the cross. In Ecclesiastes 3, the bible says that there is a time for everything, including a time to weep and a time to mourn. So if you are weeping and mourning, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to be happy. But still hold on to your joy.
Galatians 5:22 says that joy is a fruit of the spirit, so it comes from the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it comes from knowing that God loves us and is there for us. If we want more joy, we need to turn to the Holy Spirit to receive it. Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him…” Joy is something that we receive as a gift from God and we get more of it by drawing closer to him. One thing that really helps me receive more joy is praising God. Even if life is going really badly and I am stressed to the max, if I turn on a worship song and just start praising, I start to feel better and my joy starts to return. I’m not necessarily happy after, but I have a peace and a knowledge that God is going to be there for me and help me through these temporary circumstances that I’m going through. I actually have a specific playlist of worship songs that I turn to when I’m worried. Maybe you could add “I Choose Joy” to yours?
“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
A few years ago I was stuck in a job that I really struggled with and did not like. I would work all day and then bring more work home with me. When winter came, seasonal depression set in and many days it was hard for me just to get out of bed in the morning. During that time, I was always stressed and it was really difficult for me to see all of the blessings around me. It seemed like everything was going wrong, when really there were so many things going right.
Every once in a while it is good to take a step back and remind yourself of how blessed you really are. For example, how many times have you googled something in the past week? Did you know that as of 2017, over half of the world’s population still did not have internet access (Downs, 2017)? I feel like I couldn’t live one day without the internet!
Do you have money in the bank? As of 2015, 10% of the world’s population was in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 per day (The World Bank, 2018).
Have you gone more than a day without food in the past year? Depending on what website you look at, between 9 million and 36 million people die of hunger each year. Having a full stomach, or at least not an empty one, is quite a blessing.
Were you able to drink clean water today? As of 2017, 3 in 10 people worldwide still did not have access to clean drinking water (WHO, 2017).
I did not put those facts in there to make you feel bad (although they are quite startling). I put them in there to remind you that no matter how bad life gets, you are still very blessed. Even if I lived in a third world country and did not have access to any of those things, I would still be blessed because I know that I have an eternity in heaven to look forward to. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We are all so so blessed to have a God who loves us enough to come to Earth and die for us so that we can spend eternity with him. In the future, instead of focusing so much on the bad things in life, I will try to focus more on the many blessings that God has put in my life. Will you?
Do you have anyone in your life that you would describe as joyful? Someone who is always smiling and their laughter is contagious? Someone who lights up the room when they walk into it? Someone who always gives you a hug and makes you feel welcome, even if you don’t know them that well?
I love people like that! They are such a blessing to be around and for me, they define what Joy is. Joy is happy, but it goes beyond happy. It’s radiant and beautiful and contagious.
When the angels came to the shepherds in the fields to tell them about Jesus, it said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
-Luke 2:10 NIV
Imagine the joy that the shepherds felt at meeting the baby who was the savior, whom angels had told them about! They were from humble backgrounds and probably would never normally be able to meet a King, much less the King of Kings! It would have been like meeting your favorite celebrity, only better. The Bible says
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
-Luke 2:20 NIV
The shepherds’ response to their joy was to praise God. When we experience joys in our lives, like going to a wedding or getting a promotion or just hanging out with the most joyful person in our lives, our response should be the same. Every good gift comes from above and we are right to, like the shepherds, be joyful and praise God for it. And of course the greatest gift of all is Jesus, who is the good news that we can always be joyful about.
When my husband and I were dating, we went to a Christian concert by Sanctus Real. One of their songs “Don’t Give Up on Love” really stuck out to me that night. Before singing, the lead singer came out and spoke for a little bit about the high divorce rate and the fact that he sees so many people around him just giving up. When they started singing, the lyrics to the song were right on target with what he said. You can listen to it in the video below.
According to the American Psychological Association, 40-50% of married couples in the United States divorce (APA, 2018). I’ve experienced this in my own life with a close family member getting divorced, saying “I never really loved him.” This surprised me, because it definitely looked like she did at the wedding. But I guess I have to agree with her because if that’s the reason she’s getting divorced, then she never really knew what love was to begin with.
You see, something my husband and I learned well before we ever got married is that love is not what most people today see it as. It is not about emotions or pleasure. It’s not a feeling. Love is a choice. 1 Corinthians 13 is often recited at weddings and explains what love is well.
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres...” -1 Corinthians 13:4-7
When Jesus looked at the broken and hurting in this world, he chose to love them. Others chose to look away or pass them by, but Jesus chose to love them and heal them. He also chose to love sinners, people that the religious leaders of his day would not even associate with. And when it came to the end of his ministry, Jesus chose to love us, to sacrifice himself for us. That is what love is all about: caring for someone else over yourself. Jesus put us first before his own life when he died on the cross. If he chose to do that for us, how can we not choose to love those around us?
I am not just talking about spouses, but all of our relationships with others. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor and goes on to clarify that everyone in this world with us is our neighbor. Are we patient with others? Do we put them first, or are we self-seeking? Do we always persevere in loving them, even when it is difficult?
I do realize that some relationships are unhealthy and that some people are better loved and prayed for from a distance. All divorce has negative consequences, but some divorce is allowed by God in the bible, especially in cases of infidelity. Even Joseph, a righteous man, was planning to divorce Mary quietly when he found out that she was pregnant with Jesus (Matthew 1:19). But if everyone who got married was truly loving with the love described in the bible, I believe that there would be no more divorce. So much pain and suffering is caused by people seeking their own happiness over that of others. How much better would this world be if everyone put the others first and loved the way that Jesus loved?
During this advent season, consider the description of love in Corinthians and how well your relationships match up. Pick one area of love that you would like to work on. Our love may not be perfect until we reach heaven, but we can still strive to follow after Jesus in the way that we love those around us.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” -1 John 3:1
Awhile ago, God said something to me that I feel that I should share with all of you:
I have great things in store for you. Be still and listen. You are broken and easily bruised. Come to me to find your rest. Let me restore you to health.
I give you living water from the well that never runs dry. Take hold of me as I have taken hold of you. Be with me always; as you go through your day do not let your mind wander too far from me. And know that I am always with you. I will guide you through life as a mother with a small child. Listen for me; I am speaking to you.” -God
This week of advent is all about love. Just being able to say that we are a child of the King of Kings shows the love that God has for us, that he was willing to adopt us as the imperfect people that we are. God loves us as a mother loves her child. Meditate on that today. Let it sink in. That kind of love is patient. That kind of love shows no selfishness. It means that He will take care of us and provide for us at no cost to us.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says this: “1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
God showed his selfless love by coming to Earth as a baby at Christmas. He lived a difficult life, went though pain and suffering and went so far as to sacrifice himself for us. We do not ever need to doubt God’s love for us: He’s already proven it. So let Him love you. Draw close to Him and spend time with Him. Know that you are His child, who is dearly loved.
I’m an introvert, so I am used to doing things alone. I like to take care of myself and sometimes have trouble asking others for help. When others ask how I am doing, I usually reply “good” even if I really am not. But I am learning that sometimes, loving others is giving them the opportunity to help. We don’t have to carry our burdens alone. As members of Christ’s church, our struggles are not ours alone; they’re meant to be shared.
The bible calls us to “Love one another” (John 13:34) and “Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). How can someone follow these commands if we don’t let them? How will they know what we need if we don’t share our struggles with others?
I have these challenges for myself this week and would encourage you to take them on as well:
Speak words of encouragement to one person this week. This could be in person, in writing, or over the phone.
Ask how people in your life truly are and see if there is anything that you can do yourself.
Let other believers know about one thing that you are struggling with and accept prayers or help if it is offered.
This world does not have to be such a lonely place! When we tell others of our struggles, it leaves us vulnerable but also opens us up to deeper connections and relationships. And if we let someone else help us, they might be more open to receiving help from us in the future.
I usually am quick to fall asleep and sleep pretty soundly through the night. This fall, something changed. I started having trouble falling asleep. I’m not sure exactly what started it, but every night I would be bombarded with thoughts. They didn’t really seem like anxious thoughts to me, more like plans for what I was going to do for the next day. Or week. Or month.
Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to plan out the next month of your life while you’re laying in bed trying to sleep. So after an hour of lying in bed awake, I would walk downstairs and pray and journal. I wish I could say that helped. There were some nights that I walked back up to bed after and promptly fell asleep, but there were many more nights that I still lay awake, thoughts running through my head.
Now, I am very familiar with Philippians 4:6-7, which says:
“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I genuinely tried to give all my anxious thoughts to God, but every time that I prayed about them and offered them up to him, I just felt more stressed and bombarded by them afterwards. I didn’t really know how to give my thoughts up and they were still there after my prayers.
I tried everything that I could think of to get to sleep faster: different positions, not eating before bed, counting sheep, doing sit-ups, taking a shower. Nothing helped. I’m not big on taking medications if I don’t have to, but I even tried taking a pill/vitamin a couple of times. It didn’t work.
Then one day I read a devotional written by Sarah Young. If you’ve never read any of her books before, I would highly recommend them. They will help you hear God’s voice and work through issues that you never even knew you had!
So anyway, the devotional started like this:
“Worry is largely a matter of thinking about things at the wrong time… To avoid wasting mental and emotional energy, timing is very important. If you think about certain things at the wrong time–for example, when you’re lying in bed–it’s all too easy to start worrying about them” (Young, 2001, p.176).
Don’t you just love it when God speaks directly to you like that? It always amazes me how he gives me just what I need to hear, exactly when I’m desperate to hear it. The devotional went on to say that you should tell your thoughts “not now” and direct your thinking toward God.
I had already tried everything else, so I thought, “why not”? That night, when thoughts of work and the bazillion other things I had to do crept in, I prayed for the thoughts to stop, told them to leave, then focused my mind on how amazing God is. The thoughts tried to creep back in a couple of times, but each time I told them to leave and refocused on Jesus, His love, and the awesome things that He’s done in my life. Five minutes later, I was fast asleep.
That was a few weeks ago. I’ve tried this a couple more nights since and every time, it puts me to sleep in less than ten minutes. And my sleep is so much more peaceful and restful than it used to be!
So if you’re having trouble sleeping, I would encourage you to try it. Refocus your thoughts on Jesus and pray for the peace that only He can bring. I can’t wait to hear about your results!
Young, S. (2012). Jesus Today. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Before John the Baptist was born, the angels gave his father Zechariah a prophesy about him from the Lord.
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” –Luke 1:17 (emphasis added)
John’s job was to prepare people for the first coming of Jesus. He did this through preaching about the coming of Christ and giving people a baptism of repentance. Now Jesus has already come, but Advent is also a time of preparation. It is a time of preparing our hearts for Jesus to return. It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus’ first coming and it could be thousands more before he returns. Or he could return tomorrow. The bible says that no one knows the day or the time that he will return. During this Advent season, let’s ask ourselves: If he returned tomorrow, would you be ready?
This reminds me of the story that Jesus told about the virgins with the candles. If you want to read the whole thing, it is in Matthew 25:1-13. Basically, there were ten virgins who went to wait for the groom to enter the wedding ceremony. Five of them brought extra oil for their lamps, but five did not. The groom took too long to come and they all fell asleep. When they awoke, the wise ones still had the extra oil, but the foolish ones had to go buy more. The groom came while the foolish ones were buying more oil, and only the wise ones with the extra oil were there when the groom arrived and got to join the wedding feast.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be one of the wise ones who gets to join the party in heaven! If we want to join, we have to be prepared. I cannot tell you what being prepared will look like for you. But later in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells two more parables that show what being prepared entails. I encourage you to read the whole chapter and decide what you are being asked by God to do in preparation for His return to Earth. May we all prepare our hearts during this advent season so that we may be ready for Jesus’ return!