The Weary World Rejoices

Upbeat, fast-paced Christmas songs are my jam. I don’t care if it’s one I’ve heard a million times (although I could do without 149,000 plays of Mariah Carey wanting me for Christmas. No means no, Mariah!). This year has been a tiny bit different in the music department, however. I am still NOT a fan of “Where are you, Christmas?” (insert all the crying emojis here), but one song that I’ve always thought of as being slow and melancholy turned out, after I actually listened to it carefully, not to be that way at all.

Now I know you all can probably sing this in your sleep, but please read the first verse of “O Holy Night” below (I did leave off the chorus because this isn’t choir practice after all).

Vs. 1          Oh, holy night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The reason this song caught my attention so very much this year is because of one tiny little word: WEARY. Sometimes, there is no better way to explain how you’re feeling about a situation than weary. According to my esteemed colleague Webster, weary can be defined in several ways, but definitions one and three cover it most thoroughly:

1. physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.

3. impatient or dissatisfied with something

Before I begin this next part, let me clarify that I talked this over with Nathan and got his permission to share this. I would NEVER betray his confidence, and in order to protect that, I am intentionally going to be relatively vague, but I know you can still identify with his experience.

Lately, Nathan’s work life has him feeling the fullness of both of these definitions of weary. He’s working harder at his job and for many, many more hours than ever before. It’s often times tedious, it frequently can feel purposeless, it has taken away his time with his family, and all of those factors have left him feeling both impatient and dissatisfied. Maybe your weariness isn’t job related. Maybe your weariness is due to a difficult relationship, maybe it’s because of a health issue you just can’t quite put behind you. Maybe you’ve been praying a prayer for so long you can’t even remember when you started and you’ve grown weary in the waiting. Watching our children struggle with their own problems (that we can’t fix!) can wear us down as parents. There is no end to the number of things we encounter on the regular in this life that can affect our souls and make even our bones weary.

But, friends, God knows this, and He knew what we needed. He understood what we were feeling from all the many, many pressures of this world, and so He gifted us with a beautiful, tiny baby who came to exchange our weariness and heartache and exhaustion and chaos for happiness and health and joy. Jesus: our thrill of hope, the reason that our weary, heavy-laden souls can rest. The weary world (that’s us!) rejoices because it is a new day once that baby is brought forth and laid in that manger. Our world was forever changed, and in the book of Matthew, Jesus Himself reminds us what His coming means for those who walk in His ways.

Do you feel that weariness, too? Are you entering this Christmas season just tired of what you’re carrying? Jesus understands you. In fact, He is so attuned to the soul-exhaustion we’re experiencing that He spoke out about it in Matthew 11, verses 28-30. When you read this, please know that Jesus is talking directly to you. He is saying to you, tired friend, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls]. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”

Do me a favor (consider it your Christmas gift to me), and re-read that scripture again. Think about whatever it is that has you weighed down, and compare the traits of that burden you’re carrying to the traits of Jesus’s yoke.

Life our way                                               Life Jesus’s way         

*Heavy                                                          *Restful/gentle

*Tiring                                                           *Easy/light

*Burdensome                                              *Refreshing

*Hard/difficult                                             *Relieves us

*Harsh                                                           *Full/abundant

*Sharp                                                           *Blessed quiet (internal peace)

*Pressing                                                      *Good/wholesome

 

I don’t know about you, but one of these lists looks WAY better than the other to me. But you know what, I seldom set down those things that I carry, that I try to figure out myself. I seldom just hand those to Jesus and pick Him up. He’s right there offering that incredible exchange, telling me that He’s got it all if I’d only let Him have it and trade my worry for His wealth, but I’m so ridiculously stubborn sometimes.

Without going into all the nitty-gritty details (just read my previous blog posts for those), please know that I am fully aware of what life feels like when you’re weary. We all recognize that feeling, whether it’s present or past, and we all will face it again until we enter Heaven’s gates. That weariness doesn’t have to be ours anymore though. Just like “O Holy Night” says, Jesus is our hope, and when you take on His abundance and His will for your life, just like the Bible and those lyrics promise, you are entering a new and GLORIOUS morn. Lamentations 3:23 reminds us that “Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning,” and Isaiah 43:19 continues that promise: “See, I am doing a new thing! I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

I know that life can get exhausting. Just pretending you’re fine when you’re not sucks the life right out of you. Pretending your marriage is great when it’s not is draining. Going to a job each day that you can’t get excited about and feel zero joy toward is soul-sucking. Jesus says to us, though, Here, take me instead. I’ll give you my strength. I’ll give you my joy. And if you’ll invite me into your heart or your home or your marriage or your work day, I will ALWAYS show up. Here. Let me have that burden. Let me carry that for a while (and maybe even just fix it all while you’re off enjoying your life and not looking).

My friends, I want to encourage those of you who are weary because of waiting not to give up. I know what it’s like to tire your soul out praying for something for months and years. Exhausting isn’t a strong enough descriptor. It’s so crucial to remember, though, that just because life was one way yesterday and the day before that (and the day before that), and just because you got up this morning and it was still the same, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same as well. Jesus is in your tomorrow, and tomorrow is a brand new day.

I was recently reading Liane Moriarty’s most recent novel, and a line in it just really stuck out to me. I felt like, given today’s world, she gave such an incredibly accurate description of the culture we in which we live. She was referencing society as a whole, American’s as a collective group, and she stated that we were the most overfed, malnourished people. What a sadly accurate statement! Our souls are malnourished, no doubt, but they don’t have to be. This Christmas season, spend some time with Jesus. Refresh and replenish yourself. Spend some time reading those biblical promises, reminding yourself–your weary self–exactly what the tiny baby in the manger means to you. Because it’s not a story from some history book. It’s a living, breathing Word that affects your day to day life here, today, on the cusp of 2019. Let’s agree that weariness will NOT over-populate our 2019. Let’s agree that, instead, we are going to exchange our earthly burdens for those of our Savior so that His birth and His death weren’t wasted on children who refuse to accept the greatest of all the gifts.

(Below the prayer, I have included some encouraging scriptures that I hope you’ll take the time to read. If you’re like me, sometimes those things go in one ear and out the other. So what I do is write down those that speak loudest to me. Put those verses on post-its on your bathroom mirror, on your car’s dashboard, on your kitchen cabinets so that as you go into tomorrow and next year, you purposefully choose a different, lighter, brighter way of doing life. Merry Christmas, and may God abundantly bless your 2019.)

Dear Lord, I am so grateful for the incredible gift of Your Son Jesus. I know, Father, that many, many times I attempt life at my speed and in my own way, and I get worn down and weary because I was not created to do life like that. I need Your help, though, Lord. Guide me, please. Speak to me, Father, and get my attention when times like this arise so that I might redirect my focus back onto Jesus and off of my circumstances. I greatly desire to exchange my pressing, burdensome way of life for Your peaceful, refreshing one. Thank You for Christmas, Lord, and for all that it means for me personally. Thank You that Christmas serves as a reminder to me that I have hope, that a new day is coming. Thank you, Father, that Your mercies are new every single morning. I look forward to tomorrow, Lord, because I know You’re already there. I love you, and I praise You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

God’s promises/verses of encouragement

Psalm 73:26–My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

John 14:27–Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you…Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

2 Corinthians 12:9–But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 107:20–He sent out His Word and healed them and delivered them from their destruction.

Isaiah 40:11–He will lead His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart.

2 Chronicles 20:15–Do not be afraid or discouraged…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Psalm 16:8–I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

 

 

Fruit of the Womb

I’m not totally sure why, but this post has been really challenging for me to actually get written. Maybe it’s because my tiny girl has been battling the flu plus a sinus infection plus a possible virus for the last week and a half. Maybe it’s because I’m overwhelmed by the news that, as it turns out, many, many famous men are total pervs. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I have just really struggled with this one. I’ve had the subject in mind for over three weeks, but for some reason I haven’t felt God leading me to really discuss it in a clear way until sometime over the last couple of days. (At least I hope it’s a clear way.)

Like many of you, I grew up in church and have, therefore, heard the telling of the Christmas story for as long as I can remember. As an adult, I feel that the repetitiveness of the story itself presents a special challenge: how to think about Christmas in a way that doesn’t feel routine and doesn’t desensitize me to the huge impact the birth of Jesus has on my life today. As a girl and as a woman, I always found myself so intrigued by the story of Mary. Now, as a mom, it’s become a fascination. I’ve had a wiggly, growing baby in my belly.  I’ve had swollen feet and tired legs in the almost-9th month of pregnancy. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the challenges I was soon to face with impending motherhood, so I can understand her situation in some ways. However, I’m pretty sure that’s where our similarities stop. But to really understand this miraculous event that is Christmas, a better understanding of Mary is where we must begin.

As we know, Mary was merely a child when she we selected by God to be the mother of His Son Jesus. One of the questions I’d love the opportunity to ask God is “why Mary?” What was it about this young girl (although not nearly as young as 13-14 is by our current standards) that made her the perfect person to carry, birth, love, and raise the Savior of the entire human race?? While thinking about this question recently after hearing my all-time favorite Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?,” and while studying a portion of Galatians 5, I felt as though God opened my eyes to help me understand just a little bit more about why Mary was the chosen mother of Jesus.

Before we circle back around to Mary, let’s play a little game, shall we? I’m going to list for you several character traits. I ask that you simply slow down, look at each trait carefully, and rate yourself and how well you exhibit each trait on a scale from 1 to 10.   (1=nope, not me at all; 10= me, all day every day) Okay, ready? BE HONEST! (Shame on you for trying to lie at Christmas!)

*Love                                     *Patience                    *Faithfulness

*Joy/joyfulness                    *Kindness                   *Gentleness (meekness)

*Peace/peacefulness          *Goodness                   *Self-control

So, how’d you do? If you’re like me, several of these made you cringe. In this past week alone, my scores for patience, gentleness, and peacefulness are very low. Yes, it’s been a challenging and stressful week, full of tests and trials, but isn’t it during difficult times that our true selves rear their heads? The list above isn’t something I made up. It’s God-breathed. These traits can be found in Galatians 5:22-23. In these important scriptures, God lists the traits, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that those of us reborn in His Son will know exactly what’s expected of us behavior-wise: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy (gladness), patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence).” If you’ve ever wondered exactly what God expects of you, or how to know if you’re being the kind of person/Christian that God wants you to be, there’s a way to know. Simply take a minute and evaluate how you, your attitude and your behavior match up.

Now after all that, you’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Mary, right? (Edge of your seat, I can tell!) Well hear me out. If God saw Mary, saw her heart and her soul and decided she was exactly who He wanted to be the mother of His Son, isn’t it safe to assume that Mary embodied many of these fruits of the Spirit already? In my opinion, there’s absolutely no way that God would choose to inhabit the womb of a woman who wasn’t loving, who wasn’t joyful, who wasn’t good and kind and faithful, who didn’t display self-control and wasn’t patient with others. This was the future mother of Jesus, for crying out loud! She was going to grow him and nurture him, and lead and guide him. Before the Holy Spirit, before Jesus, there was Mary, and given Jesus was the fruit of her womb, isn’t it safe to assume that she bore many of the same traits that He did, even if to a lesser degree?

So what does this birth mean for us, living here in 2017 just trying to survive the utter insanity and sin that is the world today? It means that a baby was born, long ago, who brought with Him all the goodness and love and peacefulness and gentleness and patience that you and I could ever need. It means that you and I now know God personally, that you and I no longer have to live by hundreds and hundreds of laws just to avoid hell. It means that we have an example for how we are to live our lives, and we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us bear fruit with our lives. Galatians 5:16 instructs present-day Christians (um, hello, that’d be us!) to “walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit], then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh…” But as Christ-followers eager to be more like Jesus, to have more of Him in our daily lives, we must go one step farther than simply acknowledging the necessity of walking in the Spirit; we must have a clear understanding of what the Spirit looks and sounds like so we make no mistake (or excuse) about which parts of us we must keep and develop further and which ones we must work hard to remove.

“We cannot know God through someone else.” A relationship with your Savior is personal. No one can develop those fruits of the Spirit in your life for you. No one can cultivate that relationship for you. Let me encourage you, if there’s an area where you know you struggle–maybe your peace is so far gone you don’t remember what it even looked or felt like…maybe you’ve tossed aside your self-control so many times that you’re not even sure where to begin in order to get it back–take that area (or areas) to the One who can help you to once again bear good fruit. “A good (healthy) tree cannot bear bad (worthless) fruit, nor can a bad (diseased) tree bear excellent fruit [worthy of admiration]” Matthew 7:18. You and I may not be Mary, but we are good people, people who God loves so much that He gave us His Son, that we might be joint heirs with Him in all that is good and holy. We are the children of God, just as Jesus is, and it’s through His Holy Spirit who lives in us, who bears these good fruits in our lives, that we are sealed (marked, branded, and secured) as God’s own (Ephesians 4:30–AMP).

This Christmas season, I’d like to invite you to consider the Spirit of Christmas in a slightly different way. How much of the [Holy] Christmas Spirit are you carrying around with you today? How much will you carry around with you tomorrow? This Christmas, spend some time evaluating what kind of fruit–good, healthy fruit or bad, diseased fruit–you’re producing in your life. Spend some set-aside, intentional time thinking about what the birth of Jesus was really like, for His earthly parents, for His Heavenly Father. Let us aspire to be both like Mary and the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Let our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Dear Lord, thank You so much for my Savior. Thank You for His birth, for His earthly parents, for His purpose. Father, I am so grateful that when Jesus left earth and ascended into Heaven, You didn’t leave us empty but instead sent the Holy Spirit to abide in each of us who believe in Your Word. I ask today, Lord, that You take my hand and my heart and guide me through life so that with my actions and my decisions I bear good, healthy fruit to glorify Your name and Your kingdom. Help me, Father, to be honest with myself and honest with You so that I can ratify from my life any strongholds crippling my maturity in my relationship with You. Thank You for Christmas, thank You for all that it means. Thank You for the sacrifice of Mary and Joseph and their families. Help me to spend my holiday with my eyes and heart focused on You so that I am clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, able to resist the weaknesses of my flesh. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that You hear this and all the prayers that I pray. It’s in Your Son’s glorious name that I pray. Amen.

***MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!! May your 2018 far surpass your expectations, and may God show up in a mighty way in your lives this next year. As always, I continue to be so grateful for your loyalty and support. God has blessed me in a HUGE way with each of you! Now go drink some egg nog (yuck!) and eat some Christmas cookies (much better!)! Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Jesus!