“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”–Psalm 139:23-24 (TLB).
From the posts I’ve read on social media and remarks from friends, I’m certain most of us are glad 2016 is behind us.
Although 2016 was a challenge, I held out hope for a promising ending. However, I was confronted with disappointing news several days before the end of the year. It wasn’t just one piece of news—it came in a bundle of three—all on the same day.
I turned to trusted friends, asking for prayer. The next morning while writing in my prayer journal, God’s Holy Spirit revealed an answer to my “Why?” The reply came, “We each have free will.”
Have I fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit?
We can choose to follow God’s leading or we can select our own path. I trust the path others have chosen is the path God has prepared for them. I must walk forward, faithfully, on the path God has prepared for me.
While each day offers an opportunity to examine our spiritual lives, a new year is especially conducive to searching our hearts and our lives to see if they line up with God’s plans. Ask yourself the following questions:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:13-14(NIV).
Since 2001, I’ve packed my belongings and moved five times. That averages moving every three years. However, I did remain in one house for almost 11 years. If you’ve ever moved, you know the challenge it involves. While looking forward to a new adventure, there is still the logistics of dealing with possessions one has accumulated over the years.
When I prepared to move this last time in April 2016, I realized, once again, how much I had amassed. During the 11 years I’d lived in that residence, I lost my only surviving parent. My mother had passed in 2004, followed by my father in 2007. When my sister and I met to assess their belongings, we each chose things we wanted to keep. Then, we allowed family members to make their selections. Everything that remained was given away.
As the apostle Paul said, we must forget what is behind.
We must cling to Jesus.
As I cleaned out cabinets last April and started packing, I came across some of my mother’s crystal, as well as other decorative and delicate items stored on the top kitchen shelves since September 2007. Almost nine years later, the keepsakes had remained untouched, except for one beautiful cut-glass vase I’d used many times. Why was I hanging onto things that were not useful to me? Why had I toted them home in the first place? Gathering dust, they had remained hidden from sight.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” – I Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).
Unless you have no access to media, you know that the word “divisive” would best describe 2016. Lines were drawn. Anger increased and hate-filled words filled the airwaves and appeared on Internet sites. Christians were not exempt.
I don’t want to dwell on the ugliness, but we, as Christians, need to seek unity, stand firm in our faith, show grace to those who do not and hold our leaders—at all levels—accountable. But even more important, there’s one more thing we must do. We must pray for the wisdom and well-being of our elected leaders.
We can learn from the words found in Ezekiel 22:30. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
Prayer creates a revolutionary spin on the natural tendency
to resist or resent authority.
We are the ones who must stand in the gap for our leaders. We must lift up our nation with all its faults before the throne of God and pray that He continues to work in our midst.
In “The Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the authors write: “Since the influence of people in these positions can cause such a ripple effect, and because their various roles are fraught with hard choices and difficulty, the Bible commands us to pray for all those in leadership over us. (See 1 Timothy 2:1-2 above)
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” –Isaiah 9:6 (NIV).
Are you ready for Christmas? I’ve been asked this question by friends, as well as those I meet at the grocery check-out, in the post office line and other public places where I’m waiting.
Children are also waiting. Waiting to see what’s underneath the Christmas tree, wondering if they will receive the desires of their hearts. Time seems to stand still as they count down the days until Christmas.
Others I’ve observed while shopping reveal faces void of hope, a knowing that there won’t be much to unwrap. The desires of their hearts, as well as many of their needs, will go unmet.
Let Him fulfill your heart’s desire this Christmas.
In a devotion excerpt by author Ann Voskamp, she wrote, “What we’re really getting ready for is love. Preparing for the holidays is primarily a preparing of the heart. Because what comes down is love, and the way to receive love isn’t to wrap anything up –but to unwrap your heart.”
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”—John 1:12-13(NIV).
It’s a wonderful time of the year for some of us. Christmas lights and décor, yuletide songs and greetings and the smells associated with this holiday invite us to care, share and rejoice in the coming of the Christ child.
For others, this season can be difficult, a reminder of loved ones lost—both physically and spiritually. It’s a reminder of need and want, doing without and praying for help. Sometimes those prayers are answered through the benevolent hearts of those who have much.
Recently, I checked out our church’s Angel Tree. On its branches were paper angels representing children whose parents are in prison or who are in foster care. On each cut-out angel shape is information about a child in need: the gender, age and child’s request are included.
Before I wrapped the clothing for this unknown child,
I prayed over each outfit.
Browsing through the angels, my first thought was “What could I afford?” One child requested an electronic tablet. Not on my budget. Another wanted a pair of Nikes. Also, not on my budget. Yet another child wanted a bicycle. Not something I could afford.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” – Acts 4:32 (NIV).
Three words at the top of a brightly colored advertising insert in my daily newspaper captured my attention. “Give better gifts.”
The insert was only one of 25 stuffed inside to lure customers into shopping Black Friday sales. Retrieving the heavier-than-usual newspaper off my driveway on Thanksgiving Day reminded me that Christmas isn’t far off and I’d better get busy shopping. However, I abhor crowds so I tossed the advertisements in the trash.
I’m not opposed to saving money when shopping. However, I have come to detest the commercialism now associated with a sacred Christian holiday. Recent TV commercials and a story in the business section of the newspaper several days before Thanksgiving made me want to cheer. Many businesses are refusing to open on Thanksgiving so that their employees can spend the day of gratitude with their families.
Gifts of our time and our presence are better than any store-bought gift.
One company has gone one step further by announcing for the second year in a row that they will be closed on Black Friday. In fact, according to the article, they are not offering any Black Friday deals online or otherwise. REI, a national outdoor retail co-op, is dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Passionate about the outdoors, the company is committed to promoting environmental stewardship and increasing access to outdoor recreation through volunteerism, gear donations and financial contributions.
“Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should” – Psalm 90:12 (TLB).
With each passing year, I become more aware of the brevity of life. Recently, I celebrated my 63rd birthday. When a friend phoned to wish me a happy birthday, we discussed how long we’d known each other. We were surprised when we realized it had been more than a decade. Our friendship has grown during that time, making me realize the necessity of having and nurturing those relationships that are important to making life worthwhile.
A recent post on Facebook made me think about the importance of relationships vs. things. Things don’t bring happiness. Both are fleeting. However, we were made for a relationship with each other. The post follows: “I believe as we grow older our Christmas list gets smaller and the things we really want for the holidays can’t be bought.”
Only then will our days really count.
What is more important than to be surrounded by family and friends who love us in spite of our faults and failures? Nothing in my book! No gift can replace the shared laughter, the tears, the disagreements, the heartache, the pain or the victories. Nothing! Money cannot buy the experiences we share.
Money also can’t purchase the kind of friend who won’t agree with you to make you happy. Instead, the best of friends will say what needs to be said, whether you want to hear it or not. I have several friends like that. Whether I complain or am feeling sorry for myself, none of these three let me stew in my pity very long. They love me enough to encourage me with kind but honest words.
How we spend our days is important in God’s kingdom. We can spend our days in pursuit of money to purchase material things for our own gratification, or we can spend our days pursuing what really matters.