Melissa is a writer, speaker and co-founder for Revive Ministries, as well as, co-host of the Experience Revival Podcast. Melissa has a Master’s of Theology from the Austin Graduate School of Theology and spent 12 years church planting in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jason. She has almost 20 years of experience in leadership development, event planning, small group discipleship and establishing women’s ministries. She enjoys hiking and kayaking the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two teenage daughters. Melissa has a passion for helping others experience God’s kingdom and desires to equip God’s people for their calling.
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It was Christmas 2006. I was visiting my parents for the holidays, but I was not much fun to be around. I was miserable. For a month I had been nauseated and puking. I had no energy and my joints seemed to constantly ache. The first trimester of my first pregnancy was proving to be difficult. I mostly sat around or slept. One evening, my dad announced he was going for a walk and wanted me to come with him. The fresh air would do me good, he insisted. Grudgingly, I pulled on my snow boots and coat and followed him outside.
It was snowing. The flakes fell softly all around. There was no wind. No typical town noise. Just the peaceful sound of snowflakes gently landing on my coat. We walked the streets in companionable silence, stopping occasionally to admire a Christmas light display. As we walked, my mind turned to the little person growing in my belly. What would it be like when he kicked for the first time? What would it be like to hold him?
Then, as we passed a nativity scene, I realized that God, thousands of years before, chose to enter the world the same way as the baby growing in me would. God, who is all-powerful and omnipresent, became an embryo that grew inside a woman and was born into the world as a helpless baby. When God entered the world, there was no room for him to be born in a house. There was no midwife present to help with his delivery. Instead, God entered the world in the lowliest of positions–a baby born in a barn.
Why on earth would God choose to enter the world as a helpless baby born in a barn? The answer is so simple, yet so profound. Love.
As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “This is the staggering message of Christ’s incarnation: God’s glory became dirt so that we- the scum of the earth- might become the very glory of God.” Because of His great love, He entered the world that way for us. And while it seems absurd to our human eyes, His radical love is what the Christmas story is all about.
Romans 8:38 sums it up beautifully. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How do we know this to be true? Because God would never allow anything to stand in the way of His love reaching us. Through His birth as a baby, He proved He would stop at nothing to be with us. He left all the comforts of heaven, surrendered all his power to be with us, to know what it was like to be one of us. He chose to be dependent on a human mother to feed and care for him just like any other human. He learned what it was like to be cold, hungry, tired, sad, and completely reliant on others for his care. He wanted to walk with us, but he also wanted to understand what it was like to walk as one of us (Hebrews 4:14-16).
And if you follow the whole story of Immanuel, “God with us,” you know that the baby Jesus grew up, and used his time on earth to comfort the hurting, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Then he walked right up to a tortuous cross. For our sake he carried our sin and bore our shame, dying on that cross so that he could defeat sin and death once and for all through his resurrection. His Spirit could now live among His people comforting and guiding them for all eternity. Now, truly, nothing can separate us from the love of God. His birth as a baby, his life on earth, his death at the cross, and his resurrection from the dead made sure of that. Praise God!
As the baby in my womb continued to grow, my body changed and adapted to make room for him. My husband and I began to rearrange the house to make room for his crib and the many things a baby requires. Most importantly, our hearts grew to make room for the love we would have for the new family member coming into the world. As God entered the world, there seemed to be little room for him. There was no room at the inn. There was no room in people’s hearts for a miraculous conception. Instead, Jesus’ birth was surrounded by rumor and scandal.
I wonder if people really knew who was being born that day, would they have made room? Would they have let him be born in a barn among the animals? If they knew that God was at work, would it have changed how they approached Mary and Joseph, or how they interacted with the new baby?
God is always at work in the world, but rarely in ways that make sense to us. Often his works are as inconspicuous as a baby born in a barn, but as life-changing as the love of God living among us. The question is: Do we make room for the work of God in our lives? Or do we push the miraculous gift of Immanuel, “God with us,” to the outskirts of our lives? What if we arranged our hearts and lives so that we can be molded and changed by the work God is doing in and around us?
As we celebrate Christmas, surrounded by gifts from family and friends, let us not forget the greatest gift. The gift of love born in a barn thousands of years ago. A baby born to fulfill God’s deepest desire, to live and walk with his people, to be in close relationship with his people. His deepest desire is to walk with you in love. Let us make room in our hearts and lives for the gift that will never fade or disappear…the unfailing love of God.
Nothing about Jesus’ entry into this world was as we would have expected. The Messiah, the King of kings was born in a barn, in desperate circumstances to a young girl who was a virgin. Definitely not the typical situation, right? The first people other than his parents to know of the Messiah’s arrival were a group of shepherds–the most unlikely of people to hear this good news.
Shepherds were considered societal nobodies. They were looked down upon, were poor, filthy and smelled like sheep. They lived most of their lives outside and on the outskirts of society, missing out on most of the things in life that others enjoyed. Despite this, God chose shepherds to be the first to hear the joyous news that the Messiah had finally arrived!
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”” – Luke 2:8-14 NIV
The shepherds were going about their life and duties, trying to protect their sheep throughout the night, when the most amazing thing happened. An angel appeared out of nowhere to announce the best news ever. Can you even imagine what that would have been like for the shepherds? This wasn’t just any message brought to them by a courier, or word of mouth that eventually reached their ears long after it happened. No, this was the full red carpet experience rolled out before their very eyes. We tend to skip past the details of the messengers in this story to get to the message, but this was a wondrous and miraculous event of the shepherds experiencing the presence of God like few other people ever had.
Not only did an angel appear to them, but it says that the “glory of the Lord shone around them”–we’re talking about a supernatural phenomenon. It would’ve been similar to the glow that surrounded Moses as he came down the mountain with the ten commandments after encountering God. To add to that, a heavenly host, the armies of God, joined the party! No wonder they were in awe and terrified!
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”
Luke 2:10-11 NIV
This announcement was one that the people of God had been longing to hear. For over 700 years, since the prophet Isaiah first prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the people of God had been anxiously waiting for the Messiah to come to rescue and redeem them. The good news that they had been waiting on in faith for generations had finally arrived! What joyous news! This was the announcement of the century and they got a front row seat to it.
How blessed and honored by God these shepherds must have felt to receive this very special message from the Lord. It was the best birth announcement ever! They got an invitation straight from the heavens to witness the most miraculous event in all of history–the birth of the Son of God.
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him [Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 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 2:15-20 NIV
These lowly shepherds were chosen by God to become the first messengers of His joyous good news–that His son had come to bring joy to all people. Their joy was that they got to experience God’s good news even before they carried it to others. They received a glimpse that night that the world was really bigger and more amazing than they had even imagined. They got to see a greater reality, a window into the kingdom of God. This experience showed them that God had more for them than they even knew. Their lives would never be the same after encountering the glory of God that night and beholding their savior in the manger. I can only imagine that it was the joy they experienced that transformed them into people who proclaimed God’s amazing works and His good news that will bring joy to ALL people. For it is in Christ’s presence that we receive the fullness of true and lasting joy!
In the Christmas song “O Holy Night,” the second line says: “Long lay the world, in sin and error, pining. ’Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” That night while watching their sheep, the shepherds’ world got turned upside down and they felt their worth in God. Their circumstances in life may not have changed, but they were changed. They were transformed by the coming of the Messiah. He brought them great joy that night, and we too get to experience that great joy!
It is in the moment that Jesus was born, when He appears in the world, that our souls now know their worth. How joyous that God would become human for us–to exchange heaven for earth to endure hardship, pain, loss and all this broken world offers. He came for us! God’s great love sent Jesus for our sake–that is the good news that today continues to bring us great joy!
Joy can be a difficult thing to have when life feels chaotic and busy. There are so many distractions that can steal our joy. But we can have the joy Christ brings no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, because our worth lies securely in the fact that God chose us and loves us with a love that never fails.
Father God, we are filled with such joy remembering the very first Christmas, knowing that you brought to us the best gift of all–Jesus! Thank you for your great love for us and for sending your Son to redeem us. We are filled with such joy over the good news of Christ!
“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you for as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” – Psalm 63:1-8
Thanksgiving is a wonderful day set aside to remember how God has richly provided in our lives and a time to express the gratitude in our hearts. We can praise Him for the blessings of family, friends, co-workers, jobs, homes, a kind word, or simply His unfailing love that never leaves us.
Maybe today you are in a place of overflowing gratitude and thankfulness for how God has shown you His love time and time again, and you feel joy as you experience His presence right now in your life. In this season, Thanksgiving can be such a joy!
But when we are in a season facing a difficult circumstance, it can be more difficult to see where God is working and to praise and express thankfulness.
Maybe you are in a place where you are earnestly searching for God. Longing for His presence–to be reminded that He is real and there.
Maybe you feel like your soul is dry and thirsty and needs satisfying. You long for refreshment for your soul. So many things that surround us try to meet that need, but they don’t quite cut it. After a long and grueling hike, the last thing you want is a soda or tea. Even though they are mostly water they don’t come close to satisfying our thirst.
Maybe your nights have been sleepless. You are calling out to God in the middle of the night as you lie awake unable to sleep, because your mind just won’t let you. The stress of your situation threatens to overtake you and you long for God to bring you rest and peace.
While we may seek after God in our day-to-day life, I find that when we go through difficult seasons in life, we tend to seek God more earnestly. Has there been a time you were desperate for God to provide or answer your prayer for deliverance?
When I read these verses, I can’t help but feel like the Psalmist had that time of longing and need for God. He says:
“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”
Then he goes on to tell God that he has seen Him work before; seen His power and glory and praises Him for His unfailing love in his life. He turns to God as the one who can satisfy more than the richest feast. Because he knows where to turn in his desperation, he has full confidence that God will deliver him and help him in his time of need.
It is my prayer that you too will see God work in an amazing way in your life. That you will get to experience first hand His power and glory, as he intervenes in your situation. That you are left in awe and your praise will be overflowing.
This Thanksgiving, we hope you will remember the One who provides all things and can satisfy our deepest desires. His love will never fail you. He offers up living water that quenches every thirst. May He be your all in all today!
Have you ever stopped to think about how you picture God? Not what you know about Him, but how you picture Him. People are very visual and even if we have never seen God, our minds will still conjure up an image that we picture when we come to God in prayer.
Sometimes when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him sitting on this magnificent throne. When I was 5th grade my family took a trip to Washington D.C. I can still vividly picture all the monuments and places I saw. They definitely left an impression on me. My favorite one by far was seeing the Lincoln Memorial. The vast proportion of the size of Lincoln sitting on what seemed like a big throne. It was so big in fact that I barely came up to the middle of his shoe. He sat there with his arms on the sides of the throne chair looking so majestic and dignified.
Ever since then, when I think of God on His throne, that is what I picture. That He is so vast and so magnificent that I am grateful to be able to gaze upon Him. Even though this picture might make Him seem a little more distant like He is watching from above, there are times when I need this view of Him. When I am facing something so big in my life that I can’t see a way through it. I need the God who is big enough to handle it—who is on His throne in the Kingdom of God and who is in control.
Other times when I come to God in prayer, I picture Him receiving me like a loving father. When I was a kid one of my favorite things was to curl up on my father’s lap when he was sitting in his recliner chair watching tv. I would climb into the big oversized chair and snuggle into his big strong arms. I felt safe and I felt loved. Now, when my heart is feeling tender and vulnerable and afraid, I come to my Heavenly Father, picturing Him as a loving Father opening His arms up wide and allowing me to snuggle into His embrace. There I find shelter from the storm, a peace in my soul that everything is going to be alright, and that I am loved by Him.
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
What we think of when we think of God is one of the most important things about us. Our view of God and his relationship with us, especially how he deals with us when we stumble and fail, is critical to us growing in our faith. If we don’t have an accurate view of God or how He sees us, then it will keep us from coming to Him. The way we follow Jesus, how we read the Bible, how we live out our faith, how we see ourselves, all revolve around and are influenced by how we see God.
Sometimes we struggle with coming to God in prayer because we are afraid of His reaction. The more we walk with Jesus, the more we try to actually do what He says, the more we are going to start running into our weaknesses, limitations, and sins. Unless we are equipped with grace, shame will rear its ugly head and we will give up.
This is why what we think of when we think of God is so important. Do we picture Him looking upon us with disappointment? Do we see Him looking angry and ashamed of us because we just can’t get it right? Maybe we just see Him as aloof and uninterested, or even simply absent.
Dear friend, making us second-guess God’s love is one of the devil’s oldest tricks. He will twist our thoughts and parade our failings before us until we shrink away in shame and self-doubt. He’ll tie us up in knots, until we are prisoners of self-loathing. He wants to make us forget who we are, and believe that we’ve wandered beyond God’s reach. It’s the biggest lie ever.
We need to confront the lies of the enemy with the truth of who God is. This is why it is so important that we have an accurate view of God and of His character. The God we carry around in our minds needs to align with the God we see in the Bible. We read about Jesus interacting time and time again with compassion for the people He encountered, but it can sometimes be harder to see God this way. It is easier for us to have a screwed up picture of God, to see him more distant and stern and upset with us. What we need to remember is, if you can picture Jesus doing it, then you can picture God doing it, because Jesus is an exact representation of God (Colossians 1).
When we approach God for help and go to Him in prayer, we need to know who we are encountering. Scripture tells us that He is a God of love, and more specifically—of grace. Remember the song? Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We know this in our heads. But how far down into our hearts does this go? Do we truly believe this to be true about us?
Here’s what we know to be true….God is love and it is the defining thing about him. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.”1 John 4:16
God is not just loving but He is the embodiment of love itself. He knows no other way. Born out of His great love, He chose to create us and give us life. Out of His love He also chooses to give us His grace, mercy and forgiveness.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)
If you have children or a niece or a nephew, how do you feel about them? You probably have a fierce love for them–the feeling that you would do anything for them. Now, If they came to you upset because they messed up or feeling repentant, how would you respond? If it were my kids, I would want to receive them well and be a safe place for them to come and tell me anything. I would want them to know that their mistakes don’t change the love I have for them. That they are now and forever will be my children and nothing can change that. Now imagine your best version of yourself and how you want to be or respond as a parent, aunt, grandparent, etc. God is this times 100 million.
God does it the right way every time. He doesn’t look at you with scorn or disappointment. He isn’t shaking His head because you messed up again. When we see God this way, it is because it is how we see ourselves. We end up making God in our image, assuming He would feel as we do or act as we would. We end up transferring our shame on Him, because of how we feel about ourselves.
What’s so amazing about God is that He isn’t us and He isn’t a broken human–His love is not dimmed by the Fall. He is love itself! He knows no other way.
“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (NLT)
Dear friend, I want to invite you to take a moment today and think of how you see God. Are there insecurities or broken places in your heart that are affecting how you perceive God’s love for you? Are you projecting how you feel about yourself onto God and how He feels about you?
Take stock of some of the things that come to mind and then go over the Scriptures in this devotional again. Meditate on the truths of God’s character and how He loves you. Sit in that space with Him for a little while and ask Him to help you form a more accurate view of Him.
I pray that as you begin to see the truth of who God is and how He sees you, that you will not fear coming to Him. Invite Him into your mess. Bring Him all your fears and your doubts. May the truth of His love settle deep in your heart. Your Heavenly Father delights in spending time with you. You are God’s beloved daughter, and you are so very precious and loved.
The shortest sentence in the Bible yet one of the most profound statements ever uttered.
These two words can seem so insignificant–they are just two words in the midst of a bigger story. In fact, it’s so easy to even blow right past them as we are reading the story of Lazarus. They are just two simple words but they have been speaking volumes to my heart.
In recent days, I find myself understanding the depth of those words more and more. They are resonating with my soul. My heart has been so heavy these past several weeks. The shooting in Uvalde has me weeping for all the mothers and fathers. I’m a mother and I can’t even begin to comprehend this horrific tragedy and so many like them. As I see the news and hear reports from missionary friends in the Ukraine, my heart breaks yet again for the people who are experiencing such great suffering and loss. Two weeks ago, I lost my Aunt who has been struggling with multiple sclerosis for many years. She was too young to die.
It’s not supposed to be this way. Every time I face the death of a loved one, every time I hear of a tragedy on the news, every time a friend gets bad news from the doctor, these words ring in my ears. It’s not supposed to be this way.
I can feel deep in my soul–this ache that is more than just heartache, it is a deep longing for what God had intended for this world. He never intended for us to have to live in a broken world full of such suffering and loss. As I struggle with all the emotions that come with the heartache of this world, my heart has found comfort in the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Starting in verse 17 it says:
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Reading this story recently, I was caught off guard by the two little words, “Jesus wept”. When I usually read this story, I get so caught up in what is about to happen and how Jesus is going to save the day, that I miss the middle part where Jesus stops to weep with Mary and Martha. Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept?
Jesus knew he had the power to fix this. He knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet he still stood next to Lazarus’ loved ones, in front of the grave stone and wept. Why did he weep? Why didn’t he just turn to Mary and Martha and say, “now, now it’s going to be ok. No need to cry. I’ll fix everything.”?
What I find so comforting about this story is that Jesus didn’t just rush past the grieving and move straight to the resurrection. No, instead he took the time to stand next to them and weep with them. He met them in their grief. He came alongside them, into the midst of their situation and wept with them.
Lazarus was his friend too and he loved him dearly, but I believe that Jesus wept for more than just the death of his friend. Since he knew he was about to bring him back to life, there had to be more to his tears. I can only imagine that Jesus wept because it pained him to see those around him in such heartache. I believe Jesus wept over the brokenness in this world. He wept for the fall of creation, he wept for the pain his beloved were in, he wept over the heartbreak of death itself.
It’s not supposed to be this way.
I can imagine that was what was going through Jesus’ mind too as he stood there weeping. Weeping for the pain of the world, weeping for what had been lost.
Heartache and pain was never God’s intention for the world or for us. Humanity sinned in the Garden of Eden and death stole in–decay, destruction, evil, malice and the like. The world is now broken, we are broken and our hearts break again and again each time we are reminded that the world isn’t as it should be.
Maybe your heart is breaking too. Please know Jesus is right there beside you. He is strong enough to stand in the midst of your grief and weep with you too. Your heartache is his heartache. God longs for so much more for his children. When we grieve, He takes the time to comfort us but he doesn’t stop there. God has been at work since sin first came and broke the world, to restore everything to the way it was supposed to be.
Even though Martha had hope of the resurrection someday, Jesus gives her even greater hope. He sits with her in her grief and isn’t content to leave her with the hope of someday, but gives her hope in the present by revealing that he isthe resurrection and the life. Through our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have hope right now that death does not win. It may think it has won but the story isn’t over.
Jesus has already conquered death and defeated the evil powers of this world and will return someday to complete the restoration and resurrection he has started. Like me, maybe you have a deep longing for that day! We long to see God finish His glorious work of restoring this world to its original intention. To bring us to the day where He will wipe every tear from our face. A day where there will be no more need for tears because He has made all things new again.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Until then, we wait in hope knowing it’s not supposed to be this way—and it won’t always be this way. Just like when Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, he knows that there will be a day when he is coming back to make things right again. And until that day comes, we can be comforted by a God who will stay by our side through the trials of this life and weep alongside us in our grief, reminding us that the day is coming when there will be no need for tears anymore.
I used to love getting ready to go places. I’d put on a cute outfit, maybe some booties, jeans and a cardigan with a long necklace. That was my go-to outfit before the pandemic. Now, my new daily outfit consists primarily of sweat pants and a hoodie. I find it harder than I used to to want to get dressed in normal attire and go out into public. I used to actually go into stores or out to eat in restaurants, but I find myself feeling like that is just too much effort. I’d much rather stay in my car, grab take-out and do the drive-up store pick up (I mean, that way I can still wear my sweats and I don’t have to break a sweat!). Anyone else in this boat??
Do you have some new pandemic habits that have stuck even after you may no longer “need” them?
Coming out of the pandemic, it seems we are all learning how to re-engage in life and in community after two long years of isolation and a daily rhythm that was anything but normal. After having to be separated from others and careful about keeping our distance, it is understandable that we may be hesitant to jump back in. For some people, there is a real need to continue to be cautious in order to keep their loved ones who are vulnerable safe. But the truth for most of us is that we have simply lost the habits we once had, like getting together with family and friends, volunteering at our kids’ school or going to church in person.
We are creatures of habit. They say it takes 21 days of doing something to create a new habit. Well, we’ve had 2 years to create a whole new set of habits we’ve all gotten used to!
It’s pretty normal for most of us to keep doing the things that we are used to doing until something interrupts them and we are forced to do something new. The pandemic forced us to change the way we did things and how we lived our lives. Out of necessity we had to create new ways of doing the things that were once normal, requiring us to stay home more and see people less. Whether we liked it or not, it was the way it was.
Now as we are coming out of the pandemic, we need to recognize that some of the new ways of living that were once a necessity, may now no longer be helping us but rather hindering us. Some of our “new normals” are keeping us from the life in community that God wants for us.
At first, online church made it possible to worship together, even though we were apart. But at some point it became easier to just stay home. We didn’t have to get out of our pjs or go anywhere. Working from home became the new norm, which can be great, but we also don’t have the same opportunities to interact meaningfully with others. The drive-up pick up became a thing everywhere and we had even more reasons to never talk to anyone or ever get out of our car. Are you seeing a trend here? 🙂
The pandemic made it easier to escape into our own holes and ignore the world around us. Our new pandemic habit has been to “do our own thing” and to be honest, it can be so much easier than dealing with others. Relationships can be hard and socializing even harder, especially if you are an introvert. And while there are people we look forward to seeing and spending time with, there are also relationships in our lives that require a little more of our energy and patience.
The problem with some of the new habits we may have acquired over the last couple of years is that they tend to only further isolate us and keep us from community. You see, community was created by God and for our good. We were always made for community–its God’s plan all along. It is through community that we best see Christ’s love displayed. As we do life together, we get to experience the abundant life Christ wants for us.
Although we feel like staying home in our sweats because it is easier than being out in the world and in community, is it what we need? It is so much easier to let convenience and comfort become our biggest priorities. What we think we want, isn’t always what is best for us though. We need to be intentional about interrupting unhealthy rhythms and getting back to the abundant living God invites us into.
Being in community helps us be our best selves because it requires us to give of ourselves, to think outside of our own mind and opinions, to serve others, to experience love and joy, forgiveness and kindness.
Even God lives in community as the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). God’s plan for us has always been to live out our lives and faith in community.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I know sometimes when we hear this Scripture we can focus on the middle part and hear it in a guilt laden kind of way. Instead, as we look at the context, we see that this Scripture is reminding us what community is for–to spur one another on, to show Christ’s love, to serve one another as Christ would. The church is the body of Christ to the world.
I believe the author of Hebrews is warning them that it can be easy to focus in our own stuff, especially in the world we live in today where it is super easy to keep to ourselves. But the author of Hebrews goes on to remind them just how important it is to stay in community because that is where the abundant life is. He wants them to remember that we need each other. When we are isolated and on our own too long, self-doubt and false narratives begin to fill our heads. It is when we come together in community that we are reminded of God’s truth and find encouragement to keep going when we want to give up.
Being in God’s community helps us remember not only who God is, but who we are in Him. It is in the community of believers that we see a fuller, more comprehensive picture of God Himself. As the body of Christ, together we reflect God’s character of love and hope to a lost and lonely world.
We’re our best selves when we’re experiencing life’s highs and lows with others. Being in community gives us the chance to be around people at different stages of their faith journey—and to bear their burdens alongside them (Galatians 6:2). That’s awesome because everyone has something to teach and to learn.
Community helps form our character and gives us the opportunity to reflect Christ, offering and receiving love and forgiveness from one another. It smooths out our rough edges and refines our hearts in ways that self-reflection in solitude cannot.
I know my endurance for socializing and being in community isn’t what it once was. Maybe you feel that way too. It may take some time to build and develop those social muscles all over again, but it begins with getting back out there. It’s going to take a willingness to break free from our “new normals” and step out of our comfort zones. It may even require you to ditch the sweat pants. 😉 But it will be SO worth it!
So what are some baby steps each of us can take to get back into community?
The best first step is to begin with prayer. Praying for a willing heart, saying “Lord help me to want to be willing, even if I’m not right now”. Praying for God to open your eyes to the need for community, and give you a fresh appreciation for His people. Asking God to open your eyes to the fears that may be holding you back and help make your thoughts and actions obedient to Christ.
As we get back out there, we have a chance to reprioritize the things that we are adding back into our lives, according to God’s Word and His Will. Some things may look different than they did before the pandemic, but that’s ok. Just keep leaning into God and His direction in your life, and He will lead you to where you are supposed to be–straight into His abundant life for you.
This may look different for different situations (especially if there are special unique situations you are facing), but we all can find ways to connect to the outside world. It’s ok not to jump into it all at once. Just take the one small thing that you feel God is calling you to add back into your life. Maybe it is to call that friend and get together for coffee, or it is to try out that new church, or go back to church, or maybe it is inviting family over for dinner. It could even be as simple as bringing a neighbor some flowers.
Take some time this week to pray about how God might bring you one step deeper into a life of community. There is abundant blessing waiting for you found only in a life lived together!
I recently took on a challenge by the pastor at my church that has changed the way I approach my day. He challenged us to start the day with open hands to the Lord. For many years now, I have started my day spending some time with my Lord in prayer and in His word, but I never realized how something as simple as physically opening my hands to the Lord can affect the posture of my heart.
Our pastor invited us to start each day with physically opening our hands to the Lord, ready to receive all that the Lord has for us that day. He explained that when our hands are open, they are ready to receive, and our open hands make it possible to freely give as well.
So, I decided I wanted to give it a try. Each morning, I started my prayer time by opening my hands and praying, “Lord, I come before you with open hands, ready to receive what you have for me today.” You may be thinking, in my heart I come with open hands already. I know it may sound strange, but actually opening my hands while I prayed changed my whole focus and countenance.
Each morning as I came to the Lord with open hands, it became a time of prayerful expectation, knowing that God had good things in store for the day. I wanted to be open to receive all that God wanted to give me, such as his love, his joy, his peace and his goodness.
But sometimes when our hands are full, there is no room to receive. Our burdens can be too heavy to hold. So, I started using this time with my hands open to not only receive, but to give God the burdens I was carrying. I began offering up all my fears, worries, and any bitterness and pride that might have crept in. As I released each of these things to God, it became easier to receive all He wanted for me in return.
As the weeks went on, my heart became more and more open, as I continued to open my hands to the Lord. My prayers became “I bring you all I have to offer–all that I am and all that I have.” Through this prayer, I realized that part of what God wants to give me each day is an opportunity to be a part of His great work in this world.
When we start our day with open hands we are expectantly looking toward what God might do throughout our day. We enter the day knowing He has something for us and we are ready to keep our eyes open to the possibility, and to where He is at work around us so we can join Him.
Coming to God each day with open hands and an expectant heart allows us to see where he is leading us and the divine invitations He gives us each day, so we can be a part of the miraculous work He is about.
So, will you join me in this challenge? Will you start your day tomorrow lifting open hands to the Lord? You can just start there, simply opening your hands to the Lord–it only takes a moment. But as you do it each day, you will find that your heart leans into the Lord a little more. Increasingly, you’ll find yourself open to receiving all the Lord has for you, and you’ll be ready to give Him all that you have in return. My prayer is that you will experience God in a fresh and new way and grow deeper in your relationship with Him.
Happy New Year! It is common this time of year to look forward to what a new year may bring and resolutely set out to do and be better. We set out with a vision of who we might become and set goals on how to get there. But so often, by February 1st (if we are lucky), we have already given up because it was too difficult, we got discouraged, something threw us off our game or we just ran out of sheer willpower to keep going.
Last week, I challenged all of us to consider how we might grow in the Lord in the coming year. Whether it is to start each day looking at your Bible app instead of social media first thing in the morning or getting more involved with your church community or saying “yes” to something you know God is calling you to do, or whatever your next step toward a deeper relationship with God might be, each step we take toward this goal is a worthy one to pursue.
But just like with other goals, when it comes to growing in our faith and setting out to seek the Lord more in the new year, we must be prepared to face some difficulties and obstacles that will try to discourage us and make us give up on our goals. Even with our best planned efforts, we can get disheartened when the change we want doesn’t happen as fast or in the way we had hoped for.
This year, I want us all to make it past February 1st and be able to look back at the end of this coming year, seeing how God worked mightily in each of our lives! In order to see growth in our lives and not grow discouraged when challenges or difficulties arise, we must know how to press on.
In Hebrews 12:1-3, we find a verse that speaks directly to this situation:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
The author of the book of Hebrews is encouraging us with these verses in chapter 12 to not give up–the reward of our efforts will be worth it! Growing in our faith and in the Lord is a worthy goal and one that we must continually seek in life as we “run the race with perseverance”.
In the times when it gets difficult and I start to get discouraged, I try to remember that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses–people who have gone before me in faith and in whom I can find encouragement. Knowing others have conquered something that I want to conquer helps me stay the course. Their victory over the finish line or through a season of difficulty, helps me remember that there is victory waiting for me too. By our own strength and willpower we can accomplish good things, but when we are being encouraged by a faith community, we can do so much more. Our faith is built upon the faith of those who have gone before us and we are encouraged by those who are alongside us now.
In addition to the encouragement we receive from those around us, we must also be intentional about reaching our goal to grow deeper in faith. We need a steadfastness that says, “no matter what, I’m committed to making this happen.” Verse one says that we are to throw off everything (not some or just a little, but ev-er-y-thing!) that is hindering our faith and growth in the Lord, especially the sin that can entangle us like a vine and pull us away from God. Part of the “no matter what…” is to be willing to let God take away the things that are not helping us but hindering us in reaching our faith growth.
Once we have removed what’s hindering our progress, it can feel like smooth sailing until you hit the first obstacle. Things will be going well, and then you or someone in your family gets the flu or you go on vacation and your rhythm gets disrupted and next thing you know you get thrown off the path toward your goal. Has that ever happened to you? I know it has for me! It’s in the face of these challenges that we must rely on God’s strength and the encouragement of others to persevere when the going gets tough. We have to make an intentional decision: Are we going to stay the course or give up? Will we lean into God and allow Him to cultivate perseverance in us?
You are able to persevere only when you have our eyes on the prize–staying focused on who you want to become and where God is taking you. We must all fix our eyes on Jesus! Not only is He our example but He is our guide. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the only one who can bring the growth we long for in our lives. God not only created us but is the author of life! He probably knows something about how to live that life well. He has gone before us and endured more than we can possibly imagine, but was still the ultimate example of how to complete the race in victory! As we allow Him, by His grace, He will transform us into people of deep and rich faith–people who walk more and more into who He is calling us to be!
So, while there may be times that you start to grow weary, do not give up. Stay the course and keep running that race to the finish line! You can do it–you got this! And more importantly, God’s got you!
If you have a faith goal this year, please email us and let us know. We would love to be praying for you!
I love the New Year! There is something about a fresh start, a new beginning and a time to reflect back on the past year and look ahead to what the new year may bring. Every year, my husband, my two daughters and I have a tradition where we go to a coffee shop on New Year’s Day and spend some time reflecting and looking ahead.
Our lives are busy, as most peoples are, and we want to be intentional to make sure we don’t miss it. We have found that setting aside some time for reflection allows us to pause and take a moment to see where we have been and where we are going. Through this time we look at all that has happened in the last year (good and bad) and how God has worked in our lives in each of those moments.
If you’re like me, you can get to the end of the year and wonder, “what did we do this year? I can’t even seem to remember what I did yesterday!” It’s pretty normal to get to the end of the year and feel like not much happened. I know that is exactly how my kids felt about 2020. To them it seemed as if the whole year was a bust and we did nothing. But upon some reflection and looking back, we realized that we had still managed to make tons of great memories through walks in nature, some camping trips, game and movie nights and so many other blessings (like getting a new house!). What helps me remember, is to look back through my pictures and go month by month in my calendar to jog my memory.
Whenever we take the time to recount the past year, my family ends up having fun remembering the places we went, the milestones and accomplishments that happened, the holidays we celebrated and the new friends we made in the year. Even in years when there have been times of grief and stress and difficulty, remembering the ways God faithfully brought us through it and the rich blessings in between brings us peace and hope moving into the new year.
Reflection can be vulnerable and difficult work but it is so worth it. Often we are afraid to stop long enough to reflect, because we don’t want to be faced with all the things we wish we would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. Maybe you are ashamed that you didn’t do any of the things you set out to do last January 1st. Or maybe this past year just didn’t turn out like you had hoped it would. Please don’t let these things keep you from this intentional and important work. Only by looking back to see where you have come from can you then take all that you experienced and learned and begin to look ahead.
Allow this to be a time that you invite your compassionate and merciful Heavenly Father into the process. He longs for you to have a full and abundant life. The only way we can truly have this type of life is through following Him. He is our source of life and the only way toward the abundant life He has for us.
As we wrap up 2021, I would encourage you to take some time either by yourself or with friends or family members to look back at this past year. Here are some questions that my family goes through each year, that you are welcome to use as well:
What were a few of our favorite moments of last year?
What can we celebrate about last year? (a new job, a new house, achieving a goal, etc)
What were the hard or difficult things this last year has brought?
How did we see God at work in our lives last year?
What ways were we able to be a part of the work God was doing in the world this past year?
What should we do less of or get rid of? What should we do more of or start doing?
After taking stock of the past year, then take some time to look ahead to what is to come. If the past year has been a difficult one for you, a new and fresh start can be so welcoming! If you realized that last year wasn’t all you wanted it to be, you get to put the old behind and start anew. God’s mercies are new every morning! God is all about making things new, and we are always invited to join Him.
‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.'”
The new year is a fresh start to re-commit all aspects of your life to the Lord. Allow Him to guide your steps in the coming year. Just as it is important to reflect back, it is equally important to look ahead. Take a moment to just imagine what this new year can bring. Here are some questions that to ponder about the coming year and pray about with God:
What might God be wanting to do in your life in the coming year?
How could you join God in what He is doing?
What ways can you grow in your relationship with God, with your family, and with your church community?
What are 3 things you really want to happen in the coming year?
It is my prayer for you that you will intentionally look to God in this coming year, knowing that He is always at work and He is always working on your behalf. God invites you to be still and rest in Him so that you can see Him at work in the blessings around you. You are His precious child and He longs for you to live the amazing and abundant life He has for you!