In the midst of the Christmas rush, I need continual reminders to keep my focus on the Lord. I have found it helpful to look beneath my immediate experience to a spiritual analogy. Here’s a prayer I initially wrote for use in worship that I now use regularly during Advent.
Lord, when we rush and rush this season, remind us that the only time You rushed was to welcome home Your returning prodigal.
When we search and search for just the right gift for that special someone, remind us that we are Your special people, and that You gave us the perfect gift in Jesus Christ.
When we weep at the tenderness of care shown in movies and on television, remind us to express that compassion and generosity in our own lives.
When we find ourselves overwhelmed with so many places to go, remind us that everywhere we go needs the light of Your love.
When we feel alone, and everyone else seems to have someone who cares for them, remind us that someone needs what we can share.
When we suddenly realize that we have forgotten You, remind us that we are always on Your mind.
When we get caught up in the good things of this world, remind us that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
When we gather with close family members–but don’t feel so close, remind us that you gave us this family to love.
And when Christmas is over, and we are packing up the ornaments and taking out the tree, remind us of the tree on which You gave Your Life so that our lives would never, never end.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Enjoy his grace and goodness at all times, in all places. A blessed Christmas to you.
I would not live well without a “To Do List.” I’ve been making lists since college (at least) and do so daily. I used to jot them down on scraps of paper that I eventually bundled with paper clips—what a mess! Now, I keep a “Day Book” where I compile my lists and ideas. I know there are far more efficient digital ways. But before we go further on efficiency, I want to ask a bigger question: am I so focused on doing that I forget being?
I can’t remember when I first heard the clever phrase, “Remember, we’re called human beings, not human doings.” In his book Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel takes this a step further. “We aren’t so much human beings as human becomings. Every day we are becoming the person we will be. Some people will become less… but most of us want to become more.”
I think of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be: that is the question…” That profound reflection was on contemplating suicide. It could be paraphrased, “To continue to exist, or to cease to exist—that is the question.” By God’s grace, I pray that is not the question for any of us.
But we all face the question: “To Be or To Do?” How do we keep from focusing so much on doing that we forget the essence of our being, of our identity? How can we guard against the busyness that distracts us from valuing ourselves and others as people created in the image of God?
To be more precise, it’s not about the choice between doing or being. It’s about the priority of being as the foundation for doing. It’s about being overflowing into doing.
It’s also not about passivity; it’s about receptivity. It’s not about doing nothing, but about doing everything as the natural outcome of receiving what the Lord has for us.
So, here are four affirmations on my daily “To BE List”:
Be delighted in your adoption.
First and foremost, I am God’s child! God has adopted me into his family through faith in Jesus Christ. That alone makes life significant and priceless. I pray this is true for you. If we forget this, we have missed the purpose and joy of Life.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children” (Romans 8:15-17, The Message paraphrase).
Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
We don’t have the power within to live the life God wants for us. So God has given us his Holy Spirit. The real issue is not us getting more of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit “getting” more of us.
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT).
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
God’s strategy for change involves our minds. That gives us hope, because we can begin to un-learn the lies and falsehoods of life so that we can learn and live God’s truth. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), opening our minds and hearts to see life from God’s perspective.
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips Paraphrase).
Be here now—be present in the moment.
It’s natural for us to be preoccupied with the past or be concerned with the future. Those mindsets rob us of the gift of the present moment– which is the only time we really have.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 The Message).
You may not have noticed, but I haven’t posted a new blog since February 2019—a full six months. I’ve wanted to. I’ve thought about it—a lot. (Some people did notice). But I just didn’t.
I confess I’ve been disappointed in myself, embarrassed I didn’t keep up with my goal of a weekly post. Most of all, I feared I’d lost momentum. Why bother starting again? I mean, what if I hit another long pause in the future? Then I’d have to start again—again!
That got me thinking: How many times have I started strong, but failed to persist? It ranges from practicing both classical and jazz guitar, to commitments to prayer lists, to discipleship projects, to reading the entire Bible yearly, and to a lot more.
We have this idea that stopping means failure. We think beginning again after a long pause will inevitably lead to another time when we’ll stop. Why bother?
But grace doesn’t leave us stuck in feelings of regret, embarrassment, perfectionism and self-depreciation. Three thoughts have helped me start again—again, many times!
Life is about rhythms and seasons.
For example, during my “blog pause,” my wife and I led a 12-day tour to Israel and Petra and a 2-week mission trip to Kenya. We attended our son’s graduate school graduation in Nashville and had visits from out-of-state relatives. We also had 1 week with each of our granddaughters individually (3 weeks total) and a 2-week vacation. OH, (almost forgot), and I preached, led our staff and board of elders, and provided pastoral care and spiritual direction…
I don’t expect you to be all that interested in my activities. But I do invite you to give yourself grace when life gets full, really full. Give yourself grace to “slack off” without condemnation.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 RSV).
There are many dimensions to this verse. The primary message is God’s amazing gift of grace in Christ that frees us from eternal condemnation. But there are valid reasons to apply the release-from-condemnation to other aspects of life, including our response to falling short of our goals and intentions.
Consistency is admirable, but not essential.
Jesus said, “Those who endure to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22 and 24:13 NIV).
It’s not about pausing; it’s about persisting. Pauses are part of life. Even long pauses. What’s important is starting again.
This isn’t an excuse for stopping. It’s the recognition that life happens, things go on “pause,” and that isn’t the end of the world.
Persistence, as many have observed, can be far more significant than raw talent or ability.
Vince Lombardi, superlative football coach of the legendary Green Bay Packers, said, “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
A pause often leads to a rediscovery of grace.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23 RSV).
God’s grace and mercy are new every day– and any time of day. I’m continually learning that grace is not the reward for my accomplishments. Grace is God’s gift in Jesus Christ simply because I belong to the Lord.
Our greatest examples of persistence in grace are the faithful who have gone before us and, ultimately, Jesus Christ.
“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” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).
Where are you stuck? Do you need to begin again—again? Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be defensive. Don’t be stopped by the fear you may not continue. Embrace grace– and go for it.