The Right Way to Give Up

Pessimistic. Weary. Frustrated. Cynical. Depressed.

I’m encountering lots of people feeling an assortment of these emotions, and I confess to feeling more than one of the above myself as winter nights, gloomy days, end of year deadlines and the Christmas rush combine into a toxic gloom!

When we feel like this we can be tempted into giving up.

  • Giving up on  serving God and others.
  • Giving up on seeking holiness, obedience, and spiritual maturity.
  • Giving in to laziness, self-pity, and irritation with others.

Christians should give up when the going gets tough.

But NOT in any of the ways I’ve just listed! The reality is that we do get tired, overworked, and overwrought. We are finite, flawed individuals, and exhaustion and stress strip away the layers that we use to disguise this most of the time!pexels-photo-253208

Yet the Bible calls Christians to give up in a different sense:

  • We are to give up on our own strength and resources being sufficient.
  • We are to give up on trying to please God by our own merits alone.
  • We are to give up on self-made productivity and achievement.

 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Instead when we our insufficiency is exposed, we are to rejoice in the sufficiency of our God! We are to rest in his provisions and his power.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Our weakness should remind us of our desperate need for a saviour, one who is our Lord, Master and friend. We should give up on ourselves and draw close to our God. In him are new stores of help . . . but he sometimes waits to bestow them until we are humbly conscious of our need.

Like Martha, Jesus’ harried hostess in Luke 10, we often need the reminder to stop rushing around and ‘choose what is better’ – to sit at Jesus’ feet. (Maybe never more so than at Christmas!)

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:22-6

Even though our challenges may continue and our worries remain, the Bible promises us that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that he is steadfast and faithful. He is our living water that never runs dry and the bread from heaven that ever sustains!

Have a joyful, peaceful Christmas!

 

Nim

 

Banishing Christmas Angst

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, which can be quite useful for blogging, but it also means that I sometimes miss the wood for the trees!

As Christmas approaches each year I usually get a kind of weird anxiety or ‘Christmas angst’, which looks something like this:

I worry about whether I am being too materialistic?

And whether I am taking enough time in the busyness for God, and making space to meditate on the true meaning of Christmas?  (I can’t seem to stick to an advent reading plan!)

I worry about whether I am grateful enough for Jesus coming to earth, and if I am really worth his love and sacrifice?

And whether my worship is as heartfelt as it could be (I tend to go into automatic mode when I’m singing carols). . .and so on.

I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way?

 

Missing the Point

Can you see what I’m doing here? I might have good intentions, but I’ve actually made Christmas all about me! And instead of relishing the good news of the Christmas story and letting the truth of it soak in and bless me, I’ve let it become all about what I am doing (or failing to do), what I am thinking and feeling, and whether I measure up! There is a place for reflection of course, yet I’m amazed at how I can distort this until my anxieties squeeze out all the joy.

Fortunately for me, a talk that I heard on Sunday  reminded me that we can see what Christmas is about in the names given to the Saviour whom we celebrate:

Emmanuel: God is with Us

Jesus: God Saves

In these two names I’m reminded that God made the first move (in fact he makes every move of significance!)

Jesus Christ came to earth as a man, to rescue us from our sin.

God proclaims his love, care, and forgiveness for all to see by sending a rescuer to all who will receive him:

. . .the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause GREAT JOY for ALL THE PEOPLE. 11 Today in the town of David a SAVIOUR has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom his FAVOUR rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Banishing Christmas AngstSo Christmas is a time where I get to revel in this undeserved rescue, instead of trying to convince myself (and God) that I’m somehow worthy of it. It’s not an opportunity for me to measure how spiritual I am. If I focus on my failings or on arbitrary measures of godliness, I miss the point entirely!

Instead this Christmas, I’m going to focus my attention on God’s radical generosity in sending Jesus, and the news that I don’t need to strive to save myself, I have a saviour! I can rest in the reality of his rescue from sin, which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

All that is left to do is to accept it, enjoy it, and praise him for it.

 

Wishing you a joyful and angst-free Christmas!

Nim

 

 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas? 

As I write this, Christmas preparations are in full swing, cheery and familiar songs are playing in the shops, and I’ve just put up my Christmas tree. Yet a glance at the news reveals other more sobering realities; not least the recent tragic events in Paris and the steady stream of desperate migrants seeking refuge. We can be tempted to think that evil is overcoming good, that the darkness is stronger than the light, and the cheerful beginnings of the Christmas season serve to make this contrast starker.

So I’m sharing a (reworked) post that I wrote last year, which seems just as relevant now:

sad Christmas

A Light that Shines in the Darkness

In the opening lines of John’s gospel we read: 

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’       

As John continues, we begin to realise that this light is a person – and more than a person, God himself come to earth!

The Bible describes Jesus as ‘the light of the world’ because he is the eternal source of all life and light, and because he is willing and able to banish the darkness. However deep the darkness grows, Jesus Christ has the authority and the power to bring hope that can’t be defeated. He is the conqueror of sin, and evil, and suffering, and all the things that can make us feel as though the darkness is defeating us. And we celebrate the beginning of this rescue at Christmas.

A Light which Conquers

‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14

At first the light of the world doesn’t look very significant: a tiny baby, not born in a palace, but in a stable in a tiny Jewish town. Yet we are witnessing the beginnings of God’s rescue plan! And what a comfort to know that our God became flesh, he lived among us, and he knows what it is like to be surrounded by brokenness and evil.

The light that Jesus brings is a light which builds; winning a decisive victory over evil and death at the cross. This victory reverberates throughout history. That is why so many of the carols that we sing at Christmas time contain words like JOY and LIGHT and PEACE and HOPE! It’s not false hope or forced cheer.

A Life-Giving Light

Yes we still live in a troubled world, but we mustn’t lose our nerve when the darkness seems to be all around. Satan wants us to believe that he will overwhelm the light, but the Bible never even sees this as a possibility!

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 

We’re even given a glimpse of the end of the story in Revelation chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light . . . 24 The nations will walk by its light”

So if you are a follower of Jesus the light of the world, then you have every reason for joy, celebration, and courageous hope this season. It’s a hope that we must take every opportunity to demonstrate and share!

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’

 

Nim

A Light that Conquers the Darkness

Last weekend I watched the second instalment of The Hobbit in preparation for the next film hitting the cinema soon. (Bear with me if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan, I’ll move on swiftly!) I always enjoy these films, even if they take liberties with Tolkien’s original dialogue! I was particularly struck by a scene that sees Gandalf the Wizard fighting the evil Necromancer. It’s the universal ‘good versus evil’ struggle.

The Necromancer, surrounded by his dark forces boasts to Gandalf “There is no light, Wizard…that can defeat darkness.” And in that moment it seems to be true.

It’s stirring stuff! But it’s wrong of course.

Outside of dramatic villainous monologue I hope we don’t believe that this is true!

But perhaps on dreary days, when our worries threaten to overwhelm, or we face suffering, or the issues in the news are horrifying, we can be tempted to think that the darkness is stronger, and the bright joys of Christmas preparations can serve to make our struggles starker.

A friend articulated this last week when she asked me “Nim, how do you know that good will eventually win?”

A Light That Shines in the Darkness

In the Bible, in the opening lines of the gospel of John we read: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  And as the writer continues, you start to realise that this light is a person…and more than a person, God himself, come to earth. Ultimately the darkness will not win.

The Bible describes Jesus as “the light of the world” because he is able to do something about the darkness. However deep the darkness grows, Jesus Christ has the authority and the power to bring hope that can’t be defeated. He is a light that spreads and illuminates, and banishes darkness. Jesus is the light who will deal with sin, and evil, and suffering, and all the things that can make us feel as though the darkness is defeating us. And we celebrate the beginning of this rescue at Christmas!

A Light That Conquers

At first the light of the world doesn’t look like much, a tiny baby, not born in a palace, but in a stable, in a tiny Jewish town. Yet Jesus Christ is a light that grows and builds, winning a decisive, cosmic victory at the cross that reverberates throughout history. That’s why so many of the Carols that we sing at Christmas time contain words like JOY and LIGHT and PEACE and HOPE!

We mustn’t lose our nerve when the darkness seems to be all around. Like the Necromancer, Satan wants us to believe that he will overwhelm the light, but the Bible never even sees this as a possibility – giving us a sneak peek at the end of the story too in Revelation chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light . . . 24 The nations will walk by its light”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I wish you all a joyful, life-filled Christmas, as you celebrate the birth of Jesus the light of the world

Nim

Christmas Blues?

Have you noticed that it’s snowing on my blog? I even have a new Christmas look for you. Cool huh?

All around me, everyone is getting ready for Christmas, and the excitement is building. Nevertheless, I’ve been surprised this year by the number of people I’ve encountered who aren’t looking forward to Christmas, and I’ve noticed that I too can swing between excited anticipation and jaded gloom in moments. I know that in any number of ways, Christmas may not live up to my own idealistic expectations.

Sad-Christmas

Perhaps it will be family tensions around the Christmas table, financial worries, or just a rainy Christmas morning. And even if everything I’m hoping for is under the tree, and the Christmas services are joyful, and familial bliss lasts into the New Year; perhaps it will simply be the realisation that I’ve had in previous years that somehow, even a perfectly picturesque Christmas doesn’t have the power to satisfy completely. It’s not meant to.

At Christmas we celebrate the beginning of God’s rescue. (Although you could say that this starts way back in Genesis!)

10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

I want to go more deeply into the heart of what Christmas is truly about. Because at its centre is someone not only powerful enough to overcome Christmas blues and supersede romantic ideals, but able to fit perfectly into our broken world, bringing powerful stirrings of redemption and renewal: Salvation. A long awaited rescue, and kingdom. Peace with God. An eternal future.

We are raised from the rubble of our sinful rebellion, and invited to live with the King of kings forever!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

These gifts are too certain and steadfast to be defeated by the symptoms of brokenness that we deal with day to day. They are unthreatened by hardships and disappointments, loneliness and pain.

And our Christmas celebrations really only herald the beginning. We look forward to Easter – in many ways the culmination of God’s plan, and still we look beyond the cross, beyond the resurrection even, with faith, waiting and groaning in anticipation for Jesus Christ to return for us, his people.

So if you’re feeling gloomy this Advent season, and if your Christmas day doesn’t quite measure up, may I remind you as I remind myself, that our foundation in Jesus Christ goes deeper and wider. Beyond December 25th, beyond the daily challenges of our broken world. And our rescue that starts in the manger ends much more gloriously. And we will be fully satisfied in our joy on that day!

Nim

In a similar vein, here is a wonderful video from Glen Scrivener:

Stripping It All Back

If somehow you could strip away all the trappings of your life and faith as a Christian, what would be left? What should be left?

Its a question I ask myself every so often, to check that I’m not simply worshipping the church, friends, comfort, family, or any of the other blessings that God has given, instead of him!

If it was all stripped away, would I still be found worshipping him, or would I be lost or cold-hearted without all of the things I had relied upon?

I’ve been thinking about this again as Christmas approaches because like many, I am in danger of losing the truth of the celebration in the whirl of parties, family, shopping, wish lists, food, and gifts.

Would I still feel like celebrating if there were no parties, no presents, and no Marks and Spencer’s adverts on TV?

How can I make sure that I don’t spend Christmas talking about Jesus, singing about him, and giving presents to others because of him, without sinking to my knees in wonder and gratitude for the saviour that I am celebrating?

One thing that I need to make sure of is quality time spent in scripture, reading the Christmas story in the gospels, plus all of the interwoven prophecies and expectation of the Old Testament. So that my understanding of the events we are celebrating is fresh and moving.

And secondly, because i’m such an extrovert – I need to make sure that some of this time is just
me, 1-1 with God, so that he can really speak, and I can listen closely.

But I’m sure there should be a corporate element too – I’m certainly looking forward to the Christmas services at Church! But I’m also challenging myself about the content of my day to day conversations.

When i’m talking with friends about Christmas, is it just about whether they’ve done their Christmas shopping yet, or if they are putting a tree up? (I’m sad to say so far – yes!) Shouldn’t I also be eager to speak of the amazement I feel that God would send his son to earth?! To encourage others by reminding them that this message is good news of great joy for all people (Luke 2).

I don’t mean that we should scatter our conversations with false piety or over-spiritualise everything (I am very excited about my Christmas tree!)

But I do hope that as I spend more time reflecting on Jesus Christ, and all that he means as our saviour – as I appreciate the peace he ushered in with his birth, and marvel at the glory of God revealed in a tiny baby; that this will naturally and joyfully flavour my thoughts and conversations as Christmas draws near.

What about you?

How will you make sure that you celebrate the true meaning of Christmas this year? Have you any ideas to add?

We are only a couple of days into the advent season – if like me you need ways to be taken deeper into the significance of Christmas, why not join me in reading this free daily advent devotional by John Piper at Desiringgod.org. (you can get it as an app on Itunes too!)

Nim