The following was sent to me by my friend, Linda a couple of years ago for New Years. I pasted it into the front cover of my Bible and it’s been a good one for me to read from time to time.
Taken from William MacDonald’s devotional book, “One Day at a Time”:
New Year’s resolutions are good but fragile, that is, easily broken. New Year’s prayers are better; they ascend to the throne of God and set answering wheels in motion. As we come to the beginning of another year, we would do well to make the following prayer requests our own:
Lord Jesus, I rededicate myself afresh to You today. I want You to take my life this coming year and use it for Your glory.
I pray that You will keep me from sin, from anything that will bring dishonor to Your Name.
Keep me teachable by the Holy Spirit. I want to move forward for You. Don’t let me settle in a rut.
May my motto this year be, “He must increase; I must decrease.” The glory must all be Yours. Help me not to touch it.
Teach me to make every decision a matter of prayer. I dread the thought of leaning on my own understanding. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23).
May I die to the world and even to the approval or blame of loved ones or friends. Give me a single, pure desire to do the things that please Your heart.
Keep me from gossip and criticism of others. Rather, help me to speak what is edifying and profitable.
Lead me to needy souls. May I become a friend of sinners, as You are. Give me tears of compassion for the perishing.
Lord Jesus, keep me from becoming cold, bitter, or cynical in spite of anything that may happen to me in the Christian life.
Guide me in my stewardship of money. Help me to be a good steward of everything You have entrusted to me.
Help me to remember moment by moment that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. May this tremendous truth influence all my behavior.
And, Lord Jesus, I pray that this may be the year of Your return. I long to see Your face and to fall at Your feet in worship. During the coming year, may the blessed hope stay fresh in my heart, disengaging me from anything
that would hold me here and keeping me on the tiptoes of expectancy. ³Even so, come, Lord Jesus!²
It is my two sons’ responsibility to shovel out the sidewalks at our house and the folks’ house after it snows. In preparation for a predicted heavy snow last month I made an emergency run to town to make sure everyone had boots, hats, gloves. There was a foot of snow predicted and I wanted to make sure they were protected. I casually asked “What size shoe are you wearing?” on my way out the door. Son #1 replies “I wear a 10.”, Son #2 tells me “I wear a 9.” I ask them to repeat that because I’m sure I didn’t hear them correctly. They repeat the same non-sensical information. My father only wears a size 8, my husband wears a size 11, these two haven’t even hit puberty yet, what business do they have wearing such man-sized shoes? I don’t want to argue with them, they can always grow into the boots, right? So I dutifully pick up size 9 and size 10 boots. To my amazement they fit. Perfectly.
Fast forward to this week. It’s been nagging at the back of my mind that my oldest son’s pants don’t look quite right. They’re a little too tight in the back and a little too short at the bottom. My mom-dar goes off because the result is pretty nerdy-looking and I try to steer him away from this department as much as possible since he has so much trouble fitting in with his peers. Off we go for new jeans last night. He had picked out a pair of 18’s from the boys dept. (A size not easy to find I tell ya.) Nope. Still too tight in back. He argues, he thinks they’re just fine. (He really likes these jeans, and in his defense no one likes pants shopping with their mother.) We make the transition to the mens dept. Husband asks what size are we looking for…30×32 I reply. Now it’s his turn for a double take. He only wears a 32 or a 33 that must be too big. Nope. They were (sniff, sniff) perfect.
What happened? I feel like I’m living in a Twilight Zone episode where I woke up and it’s 20 years later than when I went to sleep. My sons are making the transition from boys into men. I’m not sure this mother’s heart is ready. Is this the first alarm the Lord is sending to get my attention? The clock is ticking…our time with them is limited…use it well. Oh Father, shake me, wake me from my slumber! What still remains to be done? In which areas are they still unprepared? In my foolishness I thought that childhood would last forever. Help me know what you would have me do with the time we have left.
How many times have we found ourselves on the day after Christmas, thinking “What happened? Where did the time go?” or in some way feeling like we “missed it”? The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is inarguably the turning point of all history. The birth of Jesus Christ—God Himself, taking on human form and limiting Himself to time and space– was a monumental event. Everyone should have been talking about it, but curiously enough when Jesus was born in Bethlehem almost everyone missed it. Tonight, I want to look at the people who encountered the Christ, and those who didn’t and discover what we can learn from them.
The first group I want to look at is the shepherds. We read about them in Luke 2: 8-17 . The shepherds were very dedicated to their work. Most people who work outside the home have a job they go to at the beginning of their work day, then they come home when they’re through. Lk 2:18 says they were “living” in the fields with their sheep to watch their flock and keep them safe from theft or predators; being a first century shepherd was not a 9 to 5 job. I get the picture similar to full time firefighters, who while they are on duty live at the fire station, always alert and ready for action then go home while another group takes an extended shift. Shepherds were also expected to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their sheep. Scripture tells us one of the most famous shepherds of the Bible, David, fought and killed both a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep; but Luke 2:15 tells us “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.’” V. 16 says they “hurried” off and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby who was lying in a manger. Did you catch it? You can’t “hurry” driving a flock of sheep. The shepherds had to make the decision to leave their sheep behind because Christ was now their first priority. V. 17 tells us that when they had seen the child they spread the word concerning what had been told them about him. This should put to rest any question of the shepherds taking their sheep with them. Can you imagine these humble shepherds hurrying into Bethlehem canvassing the town with a flock of sheep in tow? Does this mean Scripture excuses being neglectful of our work? No—Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”—but this was an extraordinary circumstance, the birth of the Son of God– and their encounter with Him called for extreme measures. Our encounters with Jesus will not always be so extreme, but they do require our giving Him the preeminence, the first place in our minds and hearts.
There were some from that first Christmas who did not give the Lord first place. There was Herod, whose first love was power and splendor. He was so consumed with it, he killed his wife, his sons, and most of his family members, not to mention all the Jewish babies he killed, trying to kill Jesus. There was no room in Herod’s heart for anyone to have power besides himself. In addition, there were the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. Out of everyone, they should have been first in line to welcome the Messiah. Instead, they missed it completely because their “God spot” was already filled with themselves and their own power. The first place in our hearts is a place which should be reserved for God alone, but He is a gentleman and won’t take it by force. Anytime, we allow anything other than God to occupy that priority, it’s idolatry. That should give us pause to think. What is occupying the “God spot” in my heart? How much do I do in my own wisdom and strength, rather than by seeking His?
The second person I want to look at is Simeon. We read about him in v.25-32 of Luke 2. Simeon is described as righteous, devout and anticipating the coming of the Messiah. He knew the prophesies and took God at His word. Simeon wasn’t like some modern academic elites who think of the scriptures as a collection of stories or moral teachings, but as God’s word to us and relevant to our everyday lives. The scriptures said the Messiah would come to save Israel and Simeon was watching for him. V.27 says Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to enter the temple courts when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord. In 1 Ki. 19:11-13, the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah; not in a powerful wind, an earthquake, or a fire, but a gentle whisper. With 4 young children, we have a pretty busy household. Even so, it would be awfully easy for a powerful wind, a fire, or an earthquake to get my attention, but I’d have to be really listening to hear a gentle whisper. In the same way, in order for Simeon to enter the courts at the right time to encounter the Christ, he had to be listening for or sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s moving. If he wasn’t, he would have missed it.
There were others who were not listening. Many people in Bethlehem were preoccupied with the census and with business at home. They did not hear the Holy Spirit. They did not encounter the Christ. Preoccupation with the busy-ness of life is pretty much a guaranteed way to miss the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The last group I want to look at is the Magi. Their encounter is found in Matthew 2:1-12, but for tonight’s purposes, let’s just look at v. 1-2. The Magi or wise men were from the east, probably Persia. Why would these Gentiles from Persia be concerned with the “king of the Jews”? Over 500 years earlier, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among the Jews taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. The first several chapters of the book of Daniel give an account of how God worked through the lives of these men to make Himself known in Babylonia. Daniel was placed in charge of all the wise men of Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar and was appointed one of the top 3 officials of Persia when King Darius took the land from Nebuchadnezzar’s son. It is quite likely that in his position of authority, Daniel would have shared his knowledge of God and the scriptures with the wise men of that time. Later, Darius’ son, Xerxes married a young Jewess names Esther and God continued to work through her and her cousin Mordecai who He placed in positions of power within the government to influence the Persian people.
When the Magi of Matthew 2 saw the appearance of the special star, they were able to understand its spiritual significance because they had studied the scriptures and recognized the prophesy of Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” The Magi recognized the scripture and their first response was to worship Him. It took considerable effort on their part, the journey was many months, and they didn’t find the Christ until he is described as a “child” in a “house”, not a baby in a manger. Diligent study of the scriptures and authentic worship always requires effort and that is still true today. I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to get up and go about my morning routine than it is to get up an hour (or even a ½ hour) earlier to spend time studying the Bible and praying. At church it’s much easier to sing hymns and choruses I’ve memorized than it is to consciously focus my attention on Christ and worship, especially when I have to correct my children in the pew. Encountering the Christ this Advent season, will require conscious effort on our part.
I don’t have all the answers and I need to be reminded of these things as much as anyone here, but if I could sum all this up, these would be my tips for encountering the Christ this Advent season.
1. Search your heart. Is anything sitting on the throne in your life but God himself? Make Jesus your first priority and submit yourself to Him.
2. Spend time in diligent study of the word. The Christmas account is so familiar, it’s easy to gloss over. Ask God to reveal himself to you in a fresh way this year.
3. Slow down. See the various events and activities which come up around Christmas as opportunities, not obligations. Make time to be quiet before the Lord, even if you have to say “no” to worthwhile activities in order to listen for the Holy Spirit.
When I looked up this word in the dictionary, anticipate is defined as “(1) expect. (2) take or consider beforehand. (3) foresee. (4) enjoy in advance.”
Anticipation is something my children experience when relatives ask them what they would like for Christmas. Anticipation is something my niece and her fiancée experience as they make preparations for their upcoming wedding (and no doubt, her parents as well!) Anticipation is something we as adults experience as we make our own preparations for Christmas, engaging in activities and family traditions leading up to that day.
Anticipation is something experienced throughout the Bible. King David and other Old Testament prophets looked forward with anticipation to the Messiah. As that time drew nearer, Zechariah and Elizabeth looked forward with anticipation to His forerunner, John. Certainly, Mary and Joseph looked forward with anticipation to the arrival of God-made-man in infant form; and the Bible tells us that the angels looked forward with so much anticipation that they burst into song upon His arrival on earth! As Jesus grew to manhood and during the years of his ministry, I’m sure that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit all looked forward with anticipation to that blessed day when Jesus would by His death and resurrection forever bridge the gap between God and mankind.
But there’s more to that story…
Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul and other authors looked forward with anticipation to when Jesus will come back to earth, not as a sweet infant but as a conquering King; defeating once and for all Satan, his fallen angels, and the sin which lurks in our own hearts.
The roadmap these men left us for recognizing that time looks amazingly familiar. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, a sharp increase of evil in the hearts and actions of humanity? It all reads very much like the daily news.
Although the events are distressing, these days are also a time for anticipation. Anticipation of the total healing heaven brings. Anticipation of rewards promised for a life lived to God’s glory. Anticipation of finally being in the presence of Christ and singing His praises forever! But wait! There are preparations to be made! We have to get ready!
Now is the time to examine our hearts and make sure we are right with God.
1. Admit you are a sinner. (It isn’t difficult, we are all sinners.) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
2. Recognize that sin has a price and that Jesus paid that price with his blood. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23), “But god proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
3. Realize that salvation is a free gift; there is nothing we can do to earn it. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
4. Remember that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6), “And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)
5. Pray to receive Christ’s salvation. (You can use this prayer if you want) Dear Father, I acknowledge that I am a sinner, separated from you and lost without you. On the basis of Christ’s death for me on the cross, I ask you to forgive my sin and to accept me as your child. I thank you that you are faithful and that I now belong to you. Amen.
There is no greater gift we can give to Jesus to celebrate His birth than to give Him our hearts. Once you are prepared, expect His coming, consider it beforehand, enjoy it in advance. In other words, anticipate!
**Note: this is a Christmas letter sent out a few years ago. The niece and her husband mentioned above are happily anticipating spending their first Christmas with their darling baby, Gracie. Merry Christmas Gracie!