A Prayer for the Hurting This Christmas

Heavenly Father,

You are Immanuel, God With Us. This brings me such comfort, as I am hurting badly and need to know that you are near. This time of year is filled with gifts and the blessing of Christ coming into the world—but I can’t help but grieve. I can’t help but wish that all was well, or that I could run from the pain. All is not well. I am hurting.

My great comfort is that you see me and have provided for my deepest need; you’ve forgiven my sin and washed me white as snow. The grave offense that once kept me from you has been dealt with in Christ. Thank you, Father, that there is now no condemnation for me because of your Son, my Savior. I want to preach to my soul your salvation because this reminds me that you will not leave me or forsake me in my pain. You are with me, Immanuel. Even when it hurts. Help me to know this, to believe you.

Give me eyes to see you this Christmas in ways that I wouldn’t apart from the pain…

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No. 2 | Christ Came into Hostility

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

A world of hostility toward truth, a world infatuated with sin, a world full of broken people who want to rule themselves—Jesus was born into this world. And if Jesus was received in this way, with hatred, should we expect to be received any differently?

For some of us, Christmas carries with it a suffering and hardship rooted in hostility. Perhaps a close friend, relative, or spouse has betrayed you, leaving behind wakes of bitterness and confusion that make it difficult to rejoice in this season. Perhaps the political climate and culture wars harshly remind you that all isn’t right with the world, that total justice has yet to be served, that our nation teems with lost souls who need the rule of Christ the King.

Perhaps this Christmas, rather than joy and peace flourishing in your relationships, tensions are high and truth is a battle to be fought. Christ came into this world, freely and joyfully, and he walks closely with you in yours.

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No. 1 | Christ Came into the World

Advent begins. With it comes strife, hardship, and sorrow. You wonder how you’ll be able to rejoice this season, if any of Christmas’ delights will delight you, if any of its warmth will warm you or penetrate the heart you’ve kept guarded from further disappointments and grief.

Christmas is either the most wonderful time of the year, or the most difficult. It’s either laden with nostalgia and favorite things, or it’s full of memories that cause your heart to ache and your spirit to yearn for relief. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

For the suffering, Christmas seems to carry with it a sharp edge and a sour taste. When the pain feels unbearable, the relationship unchangeable, the grief immovable, and the disasters irreparable, what we need most isn’t relief; we need a Savior who can enter into our pain.

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Four Gifts God Gives | No. 3

Productivity is equally a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because our efforts and effectiveness can glorify the Lord, help other people, and steward our gifts and time well.

A curse because its values (effectiveness, efficiency, work) tend to bleed into the realm of approaching the throne of grace.

Numerous times this past week, I’ve found myself repeating the following lines from the hymn “Rock of Ages”: Nothing on my own to bring / Simply to the cross I cling. How many of us think, even without realizing it, that we bring something of value to the table, when it comes to meeting with the Lord or participating in his wise plans for the world?

We bring our own plans with no attitude of submission to what God might see fit to do in his plan.

We bring our good works, hoping that God’s favor and delight will shine on us for being honorable children.

We bring our resources, whether money or time or gifts, somehow believing that all these have sprung up from our own ability to create, glean, or earn them.

Acts 17:25-25 corrects all of these suppositions by reminding us of one very important — in fact, essential — truth:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

He himself gives. Those three little words express the heart of the gospel message — that God gave his only Son to redeem lost sinners from death by the shedding of his own blood and his resurrection from the grave. And those three little words overturn all of our productive efforts to give back to God, approaching him with any sense of personal pride.

We learn from other points in the surrounding verses four particular gifts that God gives to all mankind:

God gives life and innate value to all of his creatures. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…” The creation is not greater than the Creator, nor is the servant greater than his Master. Every human being has been given life; not one of us breathed breath into our own lungs! Every day you wake up is a miracle because God is sustaining your existence. You are not in heaven yet because he still has purpose for you. Have you considered this?

God gives perfect timing for our lives and gives history its course. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” While it can be difficult to understand the sovereignty of God, it is ultimately he who charts our paths, rolls out every event, and sets all of history into motion towards the great coming of Jesus Christ. Certainly he uses human exertion and choices; but he is the one who weaves such marvelous, intricate details in a whole, as well as the power to see them through to completion.

God gives his presence. “…having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” God has indeed made himself known. Whether in the details of creation, or in the person of Jesus Christ, God has given us his presence so that all men are without excuse (Romans 1). If you’ve never considered this, ask God to open your eyes to see his activity; ask him to reveal his mighty power. Feel your way toward him, seek him, and you will find him! 

God gives his Son. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” The one raised from death, the one who will judge the world for sin, is Jesus Christ. Here is where God’s giving gets astoundingly beautiful: God knew that we could bring nothing to atone for sin, no good works or gifts or resources. Despite our inability, despite our wretched state apart from him, God gave by making a way for us to be made right with him. And that “way” is the only way and truth and life: Jesus Christ, the righteous Son of God.

I love what our pastor said in church last week: “Christ comes, not to demand the rent, but to pay the bill.” Have you seen Jesus as one coming to demand, or one coming to give? Rest assured, he comes to pay the ransom for sinners. He knows we all come empty-handed, and that is precisely why he came and gave his own life for our salvation.

What do you have that you did not receive from God? Consider the generosity of your giving Father in the beauty of His Son this Christmas.

Drained? Receive His Fullness | No. 2

Christmas can leave a good number of people feeling more empty than full.

And not only Christmas but many aspects of life. Parenting children. Budgeting monthly finances. Maintaining a healthy, vibrant marriage. Making appointments on time. Meeting the boss’ expectations. Running errands within a packed schedule. Caring for family and friends who are grieving.

The feeling of being drained – even empty – is not hard to come by these days. But it’s not altogether surprising, considering our imperfect planet is occupied by limited, transient human beings.

So where do we find the energy and supply to keep pressing onward, especially during the busyness of the Christmas season?

From His Fullness…

The opening of the Gospel of John gives us our answer.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (1:16-18).

John mentions the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came into the world to show mankind the glory of the Father. He says plainly, “From his fullness we have all received…” The word “fullness” here begs our meditation. What exactly does it mean that Jesus Christ is fullness?

Consider the various ways a person could use the term “full”:

“The glass is full of water.” The opposite of full is empty or lacking stores; so fullness implies that something is not empty, that it is not lacking supply.

“I’m so full.” The exclamation of having a full stomach after eating a large meal tells us that fullness means sufficiency, completion, and satisfaction.

“You are so full of laughter!” While this usage of the word “full” could also be negative, it implies an abundance of something.

So to read, “From his fullness we have all received…” we encounter an astounding truth about Jesus Christ: The Word made flesh is fullness in himself, and the ones who have put their faith in him are the beneficiaries of his fullness. (Even to those who have not believed, God gives common grace from his fullness.) Therefore, since Christ is fullness in himself – never lacking in richness, full of grace and truth, sufficient, complete, and satisfied –  his children lack nothing!

…We Have All Received

But what does the fullness of Christ mean for us today?

Out of his fullness, all things were made (vv1-3). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and the instigator of our lives. He put breath in our lungs. He was so entirely satisfied and pleased in his own glory that, from his fullness, he lavished it upon all of creation.

Our lives are not our own; we belong, body and soul, to Christ. Have you understood that Jesus Christ is your Lord?

Out of his fullness, he gives life to men who once walked in darkness (vv4-5). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

More than creating humans by breathing into them physical life, Jesus Christ creates in the dead sinner spiritual life by giving them a new heart and a new spirit. This is the astounding work of regeneration, where Christ gives the gifts of faith and repentance, awakening a dead person from his spiritual darkness and helping him or her to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Apart from trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, we all have a dead soul. What is your response to this reality?

Out of his fullness, he reveals his glory to men and commissions them to bear witness (vv6-8). There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

We were all made to reflect the glory of Jesus Christ and to point a watching world to the Word of life. When God regenerates sinners and enables them to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, he then sends them out to boldly proclaim the gospel to a world still trapped in darkness. And out of his fullness, he will supply the words to speak and the power to do so.

Those who have believed in the Lord Jesus have work to do! Where has God placed you for opportunities to bear witness to Jesus Christ this Christmas season? What would keep you from telling others about the work of Christ?

Out of his fullness, he loved (vv11, 14). He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus Christ came freely into a world that ridiculed him, rejected him, and ultimately crushed him by nailing him to a tree, even though he lived a perfect life. The Lord of all creation, who is fullness in himself, could have demanded to be served by human hands – but he came to serve them instead. This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Christ knew the terrible cross he would bear for our sake, and he proceeded to his death anyway, out of love for the Father and love for us.

Have you stopped to consider the full extent of Jesus’ love for undeserving sinners like us? What would keep you from turning to him today in faith and repentance?

This Christmas, despite the busyness and distractions, may his fullness be ours. May the grace and truth of Jesus lighten our darkness, blot out our transgressions, and fill our emptiness us with great joy, purpose, and conviction to see his glory known!

Where Joy is Found | No. 1

The Christmas season is often one of joy. But for some of us, it is one of hardship and sorrows.

Perhaps you’ve lost a family member recently. Or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a disease you never saw coming. Maybe you’re struggling with the same sin over and over again. Or maybe you’re just plain tired! Whatever the trial you’re enduring, such a generally joyful season can almost seem…unattainable or far-reaching…while you’re in the thick of it.

And it is. On our own strength, it is indeed.

I was recently diagnosed with Lyme disease. This is the first I’ve written about it, and I have a feeling it will be cause for many more meditations in the future. But for now, it is one of those hardships that arrived slowly and painfully, confirmed itself quickly, and has made joy seem somewhat illusive throughout the recent weeks.

It has made me cling to the cross all the more desperately. And it has made it clear that joy isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s a fight.

But praise be to God, joy has dawned in Jesus Christ! Joy isn’t found in ourselves! And we celebrate our wonderful Lord and Savior as we anticipate Christmas these next twenty-something days. I hope you’ll follow along with me in Isaiah chapter nine for the next few weeks, to absorb all the glory of Christ during Advent.

Here’s the beginning:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

While much of the book of Isaiah is talking about God’s anguish over and wrath upon the disobedient and unfaithful nations, namely Israel, the book richly foreshadows the vanquishing of all sin and evil in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:15-17).

Our anguish does not determine our eternal outcome. Often it can feel like our pain and distress determines some sort of outcome, be it our emotional state or the way we treat our families. And that very well may be true. When I find myself in distress, it often leads to tears. But tears are temporary. “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” At the day of Jesus Christ, every tear will be wiped away from our faces! As we have been saved from the coming wrath, how much more are our temporary trials and afflictions but a momentary trouble in light of eternity with Christ?

May our hardship and anguish be for God’s glory, in that they point us to what is eternal. 

Christ makes us glorious, not ourselves. I don’t know about you, but when I’m having a hard day, I often try to find comfort in worldly goods or pleasures. Putting on make-up and jewelry makes me feel better. Hot tea makes me feel better. A good book makes me feel better. But only temporarily. None of us can save ourselves, nor give ourselves comfort or lasting peace. And God knew that, which is why only Christ would be sufficient for our weaknesses and the final sacrifice for all our sins. “He has made glorious,” says Isaiah 9.

May the reminder of our weaknesses and our desire for comfort lead us to our Eternal Comfort, the Glorious One who alone clothes his children in glory and honor, peace and security, beauty and strength. 

Our joy is in our Hope. I remember playing games as a little girl, specifically the one where you turn off all the lights and have to find your way around the room. Scary, to say the least, with little hope for getting around without gaining a stubbed toe by the end. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, came to redeem sinners who “dwelt in a land of deep darkness,” who could not see the light of day, nor have any hope for salvation apart from his light. We once were stumbling around in the dark, just trying to avoid a stubbed toe now and then, with little concern for our spiritual state. But in Christ, we have been made alive and awakened to the Holy Spirit’s presence and indwelling and richness! During seasons of affliction and trial, when joy seems hard to fathom, remember this: your joy is in your Hope. And your Hope is eternal, lasting, and indestructible.

May the hope of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus strengthen you and cause you to well up with praise, as you meditate on all that is yours, eternally, in Christ.