When You Don’t Feel Successful

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Isaiah had gotten the hang of walking and was delighted with his new level of freedom. When I decided it was time to sweep the floors of our tiny basement apartment, I would set up some toys for him to play with and rush over to the kitchen with my broom. About two seconds later, Isaiah would innocently (or not so innocently?) wander over and stand right in the middle of the pile of crumbs I had just gathered. Or he would want to help, and spread the dirt with the broom in a perfectly even layer across the floor again.

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With two kids now, tasks that I used to get done quickly now take at least three times as long (some kind of weird exponential thing, I’ve found).

One time, we had a couple Chinese international students in our home for a meal. They were surprised that I stayed at home and kept commenting on how clean our apartment was. (I guess clean is a relative term.) I wasn’t sure if it was because in some Asian cultures people don’t visit each other’s homes but instead go out to eat together, or if they were trying to validate my role as a wife and stay-at-home mom, or because they knew those words in English. But it made me think about how I spend my time each day.

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Sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through each week, not even sure what is making me so busy. The whirlwind of Bible reading, housework, child care, training, email, writing, people interactions, budgeting, shopping, and food prep compete with the unexpected car repairs and “Honey-could-you’s” for the same 24 hour period.

When tasks don’t feel like they are running smoothly, it’s easy for me to get discouraged, thinking I should be using my time better. I try to convince myself that I should have been able to predict the future, with all the unexpected changes to my day, because doesn’t God want me to be efficient for Him?

Being Like God

Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us, wrote the specific words of conviction I needed to hear:

We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. (25)

It feels much more natural to spend my energy trying to predict my baby’s nap schedule, figure out how I should have spent my writing time, or run myself ragged trying to get tasks crossed off my to-do list, rather than asking God to work in me to reflect His goodness, mercy, holiness, and faithfulness.

Jen Wilkin puts it this way:

So it has been ever since [the Fall]: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. . . Rather than worship and trust the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. (23)

How often do I dismiss the requests of my preschooler to read him a book or help me in the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in with my time table?

How often do I get frustrated by the unexpected phone call that comes as soon as both kids are down for a rest? Or my husband’s vision for the evening looks nothing like mine?

Faithful Is Successful?

My mentor Natalie told me about a book she’s been reading called Faithful is Successful. When I told her that I wasn’t sure how to feel about my writing goals and ministry desires that I don’t have time for, she asked a question along the lines of, “What if God wants to grow a faithful heart in me?” (rather than being proud of the accomplishments I’ve produced). What happens when the success becomes old news?

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She reminded me that even in the church, it’s natural for people to value serving others as efficiently as possible, to fulfill as many people’s desires as possible, so that we can reach out to as many as possible. But what if God wants to use me for a task that would take someone else half the time or less?

In Exodus 3, Moses spent almost the whole conversation around the burning bush trying to convince God that he wasn’t the best man for the job. But God didn’t respond with, “I chose you because you are so gifted and will make me proud.” He tells Moses that He will be with him. He gives him His name, “I AM.” He shows him signs of His power. And he gives him his brother Aaron to help.

In her chapter on God’s infinite mystery, Jen Wilkin reminded me of the way God sees me. 

Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, he is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I only know in part. (38)

I may not understand everything about the way God’s kingdom is coming, but I can trust HIs leading and get excited about what God is doing with and without me. But the details need to be left up to Him. When I move forward and bump up against my limitations, it is a way for God to bring about His timetable in my life.

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As I’ve continued to edit and re-write my novel, I’ve been discouraged when I’ve felt like I didn’t get much done before the dishes, laundry, and little voices started calling loud enough to pull me away. But as my mentor said, “What if the process of writing creatively is to bless me right now?”

What if writing is something God is providing for me? Something to let a completely reckless part of my brain dance around and try something new? A chance to enjoy reflecting the Creator, who is the only One who can create something from nothing?

What if, rather than pursuing a feeling of “I came, I saw, I conquered” by the end of the day, I laid what did happen at Jesus’ feet, inviting Him to redeem it–even my unkind words to my preschooler or the living room that didn’t get picked up–according to His good plan for my life? What if Jesus freed us from the illusion that we could accurately measure our level of success anyway?

Or, as Jen Wilkin puts it:

“Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. I stumble along, chasing my own agendas and plotting my own ends, occasionally offering him the reverence he is perpetually due. He is unruffled and unharmed by my inconsistency. He is pleased to be glorified either through me or in spite of me, but he does not need me in the least. And yet he loves me, deeply and eternally, for no other reason than “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3-6). (60)

Echoing Moses

Moses, the man who asked God to send someone else, wrote a song filled with what he had learned about God and about himself as he saw God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, toward God’s promised land.

What if we began our days, echoing his words?

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (
Psalm 90:2)

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What if we numbered our days, remembering that we are dust?

What if, in the same breath, we asked Him something that He longs to do for us? “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (90:14)

What if we asked Him to help us see His splendor and share it with our children?

What if we started and ended each day with the last verse?

May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

When God is the One establishing our work, it is enough. Maybe He’s preparing us for opportunities we could never imagine. Maybe the desires we do have to host a Bible study, or visit sick people at the hospital, or go on a trip to encourage missionaries overseas, are desires that God planted but wants to grow into reality in a different stage of our lives.

Can we trust that what God is doing in our lives now will connect with what He is going to do in five, 10, or 20 years? Do we need to see how He’s connecting the dots? (so that we can approve of it beforehand?)

When I am seeking to be faithful, it helps me to see how my family is a part of what God is establishing, rather than an interruption of it. I won’t be trying to yank everyone around me into the swirling funnel of my plans so that we’ll all fall out the bottom into my desired outcome.

I’ll be able to help my children and husband be who God created them to be. To welcome others into a home where it’s okay to make mistakes. To talk of God’s faithfulness and what He is teaching me over the dinner table (or changing table), rather than the number of times the potty was remembered too late.

Father, would you forgive us for trying to establish ourselves without you? Give our hearts a desire for faithfulness. Please establish the work of our hands today. We are Yours.

When Suffering Feels Meaningless

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The kids had gotten up earlier than usual, so I threw some French Toast on the griddle and got together our vitamins, juice and dishes. I heard branches start to drop on our roof and looked outside our back door window to see the forest of trees behind our house swaying back and forth–so much that the solid trunks appeared as flimsy as their branches. Isaiah and Hosanna were already in their booster seat and high chair, and as soon as I went to sit down, I heard an enormous cracking sound, followed by a crash that shook our entire double-wide. I screamed and Isaiah started crying. (Ten-month Hosanna seemed to hold up the best out of the three of us.)

I went to the same back door window and saw that a tree about a foot in diameter was leaning against our house, and an even bigger tree was laying in the backyard nearby.

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img_1190Though we now have a hole in our roof and a couple cracks in the office ceiling, I’ve tried to remind Isaiah of God’s protection each time he hears the wind blowing and gets scared, (and how God promises to be with us when we do get hurt).

It’s scary to talk about suffering because I want to have all the answers. When someone shares their pain with me, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. It doesn’t feel like a fair fight when my words are coming up against their real, raw pain. I have to keep the lies of empty motivational phrases from trying to wriggle their way out of my mouth, because that’s what people say when they’re trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know what to say. It’s all the world has. Either feel guilty because there are so many worse off than you, or try to believe phrases like:

You’ll get through this. You are a survivor. You are stronger than the pain.

It might even make someone feel like they are not allowed to feel the pain fully–that it would be better just to ignore it and look to the future.

But what if the future isn’t better but only delivers more pain? What about those who face injustice and persecution until their last breath?

All I know is that whether someone follows God or not, the only hope I can offer is Jesus. If I can’t receive the gift of faith to believe in His sovereignty, justice, and goodness (notice I didn’t say feel), I also probably won’t be able to cling to the hope of eternal joy with Him on the New Earth. If this life is all there is, I have no comfort to offer the hurting.

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But if, when I read His Word, my soul strives to believe and submit to not understanding the ways of the One who is Infinite and also the source of all love, I can cry and scream and pour out my emotions before Him. I can feel and not ignore. Allow myself to claw through the pain of losing someone I love. Speak the disappointment of forfeiting another night of sleep to a fussy newborn. Grieve when my child yells at his cousin, doesn’t want to share his toys, and doesn’t want to apologize. Feel weary when my husband’s responsibilities take him away from helping at home.  

As Hosanna continues to conquer new territory through her crawling, I have needed to intervene on behalf of library books and her own safety. My back and shoulders have taken on a new ache, causing memories of past chronic pain to try and make me fear that the discomfort, discouragement, and limitations are ready to take over again. That the rhythm I’ve found doing life with two Littles is going to be impossible to maintain.

What if I let the Holy Spirit use the fear as a trigger to respond to Him?

When I see my need for Jesus and that apart from Him I can do nothing,  it prepares my heart for His strength to enter into the pain. When I tell him how scared I am or how much it hurts, it opens the way for His Spirit to lead me to a response. (Here’s a great short video on this by John Piper.)

When I mentioned to my dear friend Jessie that my word for this year is surrender, she wrote back these words:

“Surrender to an enemy would be terrifying, but surrender to one who has your highest good in mind, who is the Lover of your soul? That sounds positively wonderful, the very thing our souls are longing for, but often don’t admit. To just let go and be loved. To open our hands and receive.”

Letting Go

When I’m not trying to control my life so much that any pain becomes a bitterness-producing interruption, I can receive the way God wants to use it in my life. Maybe He wants me to leave my plans behind and walk with Him into something totally different. Maybe He wants to comfort me with a promise I’ve never had to set my heart on before.

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When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, there was no mistaking His power. When He brought water from a rock and bread from heaven, there was no mistaking His provision. But before each of those things, He allowed suffering. Slavery. Hunger. Thirst. Fear.  

I recently worked through a Bible study on 1 Peter where I asked the Lord to show me what He has done in my life through allowing suffering. This is what He brought to mind:

  • A deeper knowledge of God’s care and faithfulness
  • Seeing my need to depend on Him more clearly
  • A longing for heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • Freedom from the perspectives of this world by growing in obedience and purity. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
  • Deliverance from the temptation to be prideful in what I can accomplish or perform. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • The chance to comfort others with the comfort I have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)

Suffering as Ministry

1 Peter 3:15 is often quoted when talking about evangelism, but I’d never taken time to really look at the context:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

What if God chose to draw others to Himself as they saw my faith in suffering?

What if they were reminded of Jesus’ example of submission through suffering when they saw me suffering unjustly?

What if I talked through my own suffering with others rather than trying to give all the answers to their pain?

What if I was able to speak about the benefits I’ve experienced because of suffering, even as I expressed my current pain honestly with others? (Rather than simply depending on inspirational phrases that decorate my living room walls or web images that pop onto people’s Facebook feed to do the job.)

When God brought the plagues and split the sea, one of the reasons He did it was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7, 13) The Egyptians did, and some even joined the Israelites, leaving their security behind to follow a God of glory and power.

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God is not afraid to use suffering to draw people’s hearts to Himself, because fellowship with Him is always better than escaping painful circumstances.

He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, and has made a way for us to know Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Will we speak that hope to ourselves and others when they ask?

What benefits has God allowed you to see as He’s worked for your good in suffering?

What anxiety is He longing for you to cast on Him?

What promise is He inviting you to grab onto today?

When Your Plans Get Thrown Out the Window

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A few years ago, my mom challenged me to come up with a word for the year, something that I wanted to invite God to do in my life as I considered what might happen in the coming year. Some of my words from past years have included: Spirit, dependance, and presence (which was my word last year as I anticipated Hosanna’s arrival and my life being turned on its head, courtesy of my newborn).

This year, I’ve been a bit nervous about my word. As if by saying it, I am inviting opportunities to need it. But maybe I am. My word is surrender.

As I anticipate the critical training time now that Hosanna has learned how to crawl (and will soon be communicating more), as I hope to get my novel to a place of sending it to publishers, as I continue to ask God to send people into my home who need to hear or be reminded of gospel truths, it is scary.

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I’ve always found safety in the familiar, especially when I’m the one creating the schedule for everyone else to stick to. But God, in His grace, keeps bringing these living, breathing, factors into my life to open my eyes to the pride of wanting to do exactly what I want, when I want. When I’ve tried to make others see that my perceptions and solutions are the best, without considering their own desires, the only thing I’ve gained is a deeper sense of discontent.

Listening to My Heart?

When I see anything that sways from my intentions as annoying interruptions, (like my son vomiting on the carpet or the “accidents” that make me keep my vinegar spray bottle handy), my heart is really believing that God doesn’t know what He is doing and can’t possibly work it together for my good. Better to suck it up and hope the next day is closer to my plans.

But what if my plans get completely thrown out the window?

What if my brothers sold me into slavery because they were jealous of me? And even when I tried to respond to a situation in a righteous way, it led to me being falsely accused and put in prison?

What if I was told to leave my home and believe promises that wouldn’t be fully fulfilled until after I’d died?

What if I was sent to a place where I took on the neediness of a baby, grew up to be consistently rejected or misunderstood by those I was trying to reach, and spent the night before my execution asking the Father if there was any way His plan could be fulfilled in a different way?

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What if by laying aside my plans done in my way, all the little times I “shared in His sufferings” pointed directly to Him?

Joseph’s Journey

I recently read through Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis and was surprised by how this righteous man’s life pointed to Jesus in so many little details.

Both lives were exchanged for silver.

Both were betrayed by people close to them.

Both were falsely accused when they had acted righteously.

Both were thrown into a pit. (Joseph was tossed in by his brothers, and then the jail Potiphar sent him to was referred to as the pit. Jesus tasted the pit of Hell’s punishment for us when He died on the cross.)

Both caused people to give glory to God in response to their actions, and gave God glory for their abilities.

Both were raised to a high position and became a channel of blessing to the nations. (Joseph advised Pharaoh and provided food during the famine. Jesus, through His resurrection and being raised to glory, offers His righteousness to us so that we might be forgiven and raised to the glory of our eternal home with Him.)

Both submitted to the Father’s will in forgiving and welcoming those who had done them wrong, (Joseph told his brothers that what they had intended for evil, God used for good. Jesus brought forgiveness to us, while we were still sinners.)

Both had to look forward to a future inheritance. (Joseph only had Jacob’s blessing and his affirmation of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and himself. Jesus conquered death through the cross, but waits to receive the full number of His inheritance (us!) even as He prepares to come again and usher in life on the New Earth.)

It’s only through God’s Word that we can grasp the Big Story of His plan of redemption for the world and see His steadfast love at work, even when we are sinned against, and especially when we sin.

May the Spirit help us to trust the Divine Author who is fitting together all the pieces of His redemption story. We are a part of His story, and every happy ending to every book is a mere reflection of what it will be like to enter into the happiest eternity of fellowship with God.

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Opening our Eyes

But how can we actually see God’s Sovereign, Loving, Good hand at work every time our nose starts to run? (Or feel the dread of getting sick when other family members get it first.)

Every time our toddler finds something else to dump out (or hide)?

Every time our baby starts working on a new tooth?

Every time our preschooler comes up with another question to ask (or keeps re-asking a question when he is not satisfied with the answer given)?

Every time our children refuse to pray, refuse to thank someone for a gift, or choose to value a toy over the value of their sibling?

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Maybe, as we sweep Play-doh crumbs off the floor, we feel more like we’re stuck in a pit than experiencing the joy of being raised with Christ.

Maybe the routine of sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away laundry feels like a never-ending circle of responsibility.

What if we asked God to open our eyes to the bigger story, to how it points forward to what God is going to do in the future? Or how it can remind us of what Jesus has already done?

What if we could see each load of shirts bringing us one cycle closer to the moment when we will lose our earthly clothes and be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness?

What if each meal planned, prepared, eaten, and cleaned up, gave us a hint of how much better it will be at the marriage supper of the Lamb, when it’s not really the food that satisfies us but is only an accompaniment to our enjoyment of the One who satisfies us completely?

What if we saw each training opportunity as a way to reflect what God wants to do in our lives–teaching us His ways, disciplining us when necessary, and allowing us to take part in the fruit of righteousness, blessing, and joy that comes from living in obedience.

What if each failed attempt to reach the potty in time, each attempt to pull-up on the couch without falling, and each baby cry that refused to be comforted, pointed us to hope in the God who is walking with us, all the way to our final home, when we finally “get it?”

Spirit, would you open our eyes to see what You are doing and trust your loving Hand with the rest?

If you’d like to share your word for the year, I’d love to pray it with you.

How to Fill Your New Year’s Resolutions With Hope

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I wrote this article last year, but as I look forward to what God might have in 2017, I wanted to share it again. 

I can’t even count the number of times growing up, whether it was public school or youth group that I was challenged to “make a difference in the world.” That I could be a part of seeing life-changing transformation in the lives of those I reached out to.

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Fast forward a few years to my current life filled with laundry, meal preparations, and conversations about screwdrivers, milk, and pretending to jump in imaginary pools of water.

Surely if I could somehow get these responsibilities over with, I could get to the really important stuff, (followed up by letters of appreciation from people telling me how their lives are so much better because of me and God must surely be pleased with all the people I am impacting.)

At times, it’s easy to see my toddler as an obstacle to what I am trying to accomplish, rather than part of my purpose.

It feels like the Christian life should be separate from wiping the hairs off the bathroom sinks, paying the electric bill, and picking up another box of diapers from Walmart.

But most of the time, those tasks are exactly what my days consist of.

What happened to changing the world?

How do we have a vision while still holding our plans loosely (because little people aren’t as predictable as we might like them to be)?

How do we invite our families to be part of that vision, instead of imagining all that we could do if we had a break from them?

In Philippians 3, Paul lists his accomplishments and reasons he would look pretty important to the average Jew. But in verses 7-9, Paul says,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

In verse 14 he goes on to say, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

What is Paul’s goal? It wasn’t changing the world (though God used Him to share His truth in many places).

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His goal was knowing Jesus and living in the hope of the gospel for today and for eternity.

This goal was meant to be pursued as we go about our responsibilities, instead of getting our everyday tasks finished as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can get to the really important work.

Picking up toys for the hundredth time and organizing leftovers can be part of God’s work as we let His pleasure and presence give each task meaning.

Rachel Jankovic, in her book Fit to Burst, shares that “It does not matter what is on the table when the people around it aren’t at peace. It doesn’t matter how clean your house is when bitterness is growing in the hearts of your children.” (p.31)

Goals vs. Desires

So is it pointless to have dreams? Should we throw all our goals out the window?

It’s important to make a distinction between goals and desires. Goals can’t involve others’ behavior, because we don’t have control over that.

I can desire to get my closets organized, but if my son starts running a fever, or my husband has to work late, I can’t consider the unaccomplished task a failure.

On the other hand, if my goal is to invite Jesus and His joy and favor earned on my behalf into every task and interaction I have, I can keep working and fighting to reach it.

Rachel Jankovic shares that “[Our children] should see us setting realistic (but maybe difficult) goals, and working hard toward them. They should see us being visionaries who are anchored firmly in reality. . . They should see us laboring hard to make a beautiful life for them while not losing sight of the them in it.” (p. 31)

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It’s exciting to be around people who are passionate about something. When my husband comes home telling me all about how he’s learning to use the incredible software that designs the metal parts at his company, it makes me smile.

When I have the chance to talk about the draft of my novel with someone, I can hardly choose whether to talk about plot, character, or the storylines I’m trying to weave together.

It’s good to want to make changes to be healthier in mind, body and spirit.

But when the snooze gets pushed too many times, or moments to write get sucked up by phone calls, or I end up dealing with a tantrum when he should have been napping, I can still be succeeding.

If my ultimate goal is to know Jesus and invite His gospel truth to fill my mind each day, the actual circumstances are only the avenue for accomplishing the goal.

John Piper, a pastor and teacher shared in one of his sermons that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Will you trust the God who shaped the universe and has all the power to accomplish His perfect plan (and let you be a part of it) as He leads you into the future?

Will you lay your desires for this next year in His hands?

Will you let your children see what it means to “press on toward the goal” in His grace?

12 Days of Scriptures about Jesus to Meditate on this Christmas

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Are you ready?

This advent season, we join with God’s people throughout all of history who waited for their Messiah, their Deliverer, to come. But our waiting is different. We get to celebrate the climax of God’s redemption plan in sending Jesus to earth to pay the price for our sins, even as we await His coming again, when we will join with the angels in celebrating Him, and take part in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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The shepherds were amazed and terrified when they saw God’s messengers giving glory to Him as they delivered the good news. Just imagine what it will be like when we will join with the angels and elders and living creatures praising the Lamb on the New Earth.

Rather than spending twelve days trying to figure out why a true love would give turtledoves or milkmaids, I put together twelve days of Scriptures about Jesus to meditate on this Christmas season. I’ve also created a PDF you can print out to use for yourself or your family. (And if you want even more resources, you can check out Paul Tripp’s excellent Advent series and Betsy’s 25 Advent Readings for the Very Young.)

May the joy of Christ fill your traditions, family times, and difficulties this Christmas. He is here. . . and He is coming.

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Day 1

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. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)

Day 2

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Day 3

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

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Day 4

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

Day 5

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. 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. 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. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 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. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 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. (John 1:1-18)

Day 6

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:7-11, 14-16)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

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)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

Day 7

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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Day 8

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

Day 9

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

Day 10

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11)

Day 11

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:6-14)

Day 12

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. . . Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:6-8, 11-16)

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10 Gifts We Can Receive From God This Christmas

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When we were in elementary school, my brother and I used to crawl around the base of our Christmas tree to examine the packages each evening before Mom called us for dinner.  My brother would count the number of gifts for each of us kids to make sure they were equal, all the while begging Mom to open “just one” before Christmas.

One year, I had this gloriously mysterious triangle one. I showed it to my friends when they came over, until one of them guessed what it was, (which definitely took away from the excitement of opening the watch on Christmas day).

Each year, I’d always hide my gift to my sister underneath other packages, because she was somehow always able to guess what her little sister tried to be so sneaky in buying her.

After all the presents were unwrapped, I often felt twinges of disappointment—that it was all over until next year, and none of the gifts had been able to make me perfectly happy.

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Now, I worry about how to find something that will be meaningful for the person I am giving to, hoping it won’t sit up on a shelf or go in a Goodwill box by the next year. And as other opportunities for giving flood my mailbox–baby chicks that kids can help their family raise and sell for food, life-saving medical procedures for people in other countries, and Bibles for persecuted Christians–the choices can feel overwhelming.

This Advent, I want my giving to reflect the joy that God feels in giving gifts to His children, while still remembering that their only true satisfaction can be found in Jesus. I want to give toward some needs, knowing that God mourns the brokenness in the world and is bringing restoration.

But most of all, I want to receive. Not only the things that make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, but also the baby cries, stuffy noses, and lost sleep He uses to make me more like Himself.

Because God’s ways are true, and He is perfectly good, we can trust Him to give us what is best. And because He is the best, He gives us Himself. Immanuel—God with us. God in us. God through us.

As you read the following verses, I invite you to imagine each as a physical gift that you are unwrapping, then looking into your Father’s face and thanking Him for it.

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  1. His Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:8-13 ESV)

  1. His Righteousness

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21)

  1. His Conviction

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. . . I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1, 5)

  1. His Discipline and Use of Suffering

For [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-12)

  1. His Instruction

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

  1. His Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

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  1. His Love

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

  1. His Sovereign Control of our Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

  1. His Help

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3)

  1. His Peace in His Presence

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

May each of these gifts draw us to a greater awe for who He is as we celebrate one Christmas closer to our heavenly home.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)

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5 Sacrifices We Can Offer to God This Thanksgiving

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Like potty training accidents and moments of defiance, sickness isn’t really something you can plan into your schedule, (though now that I have two kids, it’s a little easier to see it coming. Example: My preschooler got a runny nose, became even more affectionate toward his little sister, giving her the cold, which passed to my husband who had to go to work feeling sick, and finally after a few days of trying to make everyone feel better, I got to join in the nose-blowing fun.)

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As the regular household chores were pared down to keeping the kids alive and a few meals cooked, I struggled with the feeling of uselessness, accomplishing even less than the current pace of life I’ve tried to get used to with having two kids. Time to study the Bible is even more interrupted by inconsistent nap schedules and a tired mommy brain.

It’s made me want to enter this season of Advent and the wonderful family and friend Christmas extras that are added to the schedule with a greater awe for Immanuel—God with us—leading and guiding how we go about our days.

But how do we know how to spend our time?

First, we need to figure out what roles God has called us to in light of the future inheritance we have, which will never perish, spoil, or fade. (I Peter 1:4)

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Called to Be a Priest

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

So what does it actually look like to be a priest on this side of the cross?

How can I be a priest as I go about my other wife-mother-friend-daughter-sister-church member roles?

First, we need to remember that our ability to be a priest rests solely on Jesus’ work as the Great High Priest. He was tempted in every way, yet kept the law perfectly so that we can receive His righteousness on our behalf. Even now, He intercedes for us so that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Only then can we hope to offer the smaller spiritual sacrifices that reflect His greatest sacrifice on the cross as we intercede between and on behalf of others.

Jen Wilkin, in her Bible study on 1 Peter, pointed us to some Scriptures describing five different kinds of spiritual sacrifices.

  1. A broken spirit and contrite heart

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

  1. Our bodies

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

  1. Proclaiming the gospel

But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:15-16)

  1. Praising God by acknowledging His name

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

  1. Doing good and sharing what I have

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16)

Just like God’s gracious blessings are both physical and spiritual, our sacrifices to Him may or may not be seen before they are offered like incense before God’s throne.

Each moment I invest in praising God for who He is, thanking Him for the specific physical and spiritual gifts He helps me to recognize, and surrendering my body for His use, it is a sacrifice to Him.

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Every time I invite Him to search my heart and draw me to repentance, it is a sacrifice to Him.

And when my heart is focused on the goodness of God, it prepares my heart and mind for talking about that goodness with others.

I can be thankful for each opportunity to do good that He provides: each spoonful of pureed peas, each moment of listening to a friend pour out her struggles, each repeated read of the Katie the Snowplow book , and each cycle of planning a menu, shopping, pulling ingredients out of the fridge, cooking, serving, and cleaning up.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, will we be content to stop at spending a moment thanking Him for the physical blessings of good food, family, and friends? (Or merely join with the world in the feeling of “being thankful” with no one to direct our thanks to?)

What other sacrifices might God be inviting us to give for our good and His glory?

*If you’d like to read a Thanksgiving fiction piece I wrote last year, click here.